Page last updated at 08:10 GMT, Saturday, 22 August 2009 09:10 UK

Muslims begin Ramadan holy month

Muslim women in Jakarta, Indonesia, pray on the eve of Ramadan - 21 August 2009
Ramadan marks a month of fasting and prayer for Muslims

The Islamic holy month of Ramadan has begun across most of the Muslim world, ushering in 30 days of dawn to dusk fasting and extra prayer.

On the eve of Ramadan, US President Barack Obama said he wanted to build a new partnership between the US and Muslims around the world.

He said US efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan were in keeping with the US commitment to a more secure world.

The timing of Ramadan varies according to the first sighting of the New Moon.

The ninth month of the Muslim calendar, Ramadan marks the time more than 1,400 years ago when the first words of Islam's holy book, the Koran, are believed to have been revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.

During this month, the gates of heaven are said to open and the gates of hell are closed.

The world's estimated one billion observant Muslims will abstain from food, smoking and sex during the daylight hours and hold extra prayers at night.

Ramadan ends with the first sighting of the new moon and culminates in the three-day festival of fast-breaking - Eid-ul-Fitr.

'Mutual respect'

Obama calls for US-Muslim links

In a video message posted on the White House website, Mr Obama said the rituals of Ramadan "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".

He said the US efforts to end the war in Iraq and to defeat militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan were in keeping with America's responsibility to build a more secure world.

On the Middle East, he said the US was committed to "a two-state solution that recognises the rights of Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace and security".

"All of these efforts are a part of America's commitment to engage Muslims and Muslim-majority nations on the basis of mutual interest and mutual respect. And at this time of renewal, I want to reiterate my commitment to a new beginning between America and Muslims around the world," he said.

Mr Obama has spoken several times of his desire to repair US relations with the world's Muslims. In a speech in Cairo in June he said: "America is not, and never will be, at war with Islam".

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