Muslims Begin Month-long Ramadan Observance

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Sparklers in hand, Palestinian children in Gaza joyfully celebrated the beginning of the religious season Ramadan.  In Pakistan, Muslims anxiously awaited the announcement that the day was over-- meaning they could then break their daily fast.

Ramadan occurs each year when the new moon is sighted in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar.  This is the first time in 33 years that Ramadan has been celebrated in August.

During the holiday, Muslims refrain from eating, drinking and smoking during daylight hours. They believe Ramadan is the time when the Koran was revealed to their Prophet Mohammed.

It is also a time of intense prayer and strengthening ties with family and community.

Before he left for his New England family vacation, President Obama extended his blessings to Muslims saying the Ramadan practice of fasting is shared by his own Christian faith.

"These rituals remind us of the principles that we hold in common and Islam's role in advancing justice, progress, tolerance and the dignity of all human beings," Obama said.

A man in Iraq suggested that higher food prices are making it more difficult for people in his country to prepare for Ramadan festivities.

In Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, a woman said she welcomes the fasting month because it is filled with God's blessings.

Meanwhile in Malaysia, Muslim model Kartika Sari received word that her Ramadan observances may proceed uninterrupted.

The 32-year-old mother of two was scheduled to receive a caning penalty next week, but she has been given a reprieve until after Ramadan.

Sari will be the first Malaysian woman to be caned in prison because she was caught drinking a beer. The consumption of alcohol is prohibited under Islamic law.

A Sharia court ordered Sari to receive six lashes. Amnesty International has asked the government to revoke the sentence because caning violates international human rights law.

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