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Muslims across the world celebrate Eid al-Fitr after the month-long fast of Ramadan comes to a close.

On the day of Eid Muslims greet each other by saying “Eid Mubarak”.

Because the timing of Eid al-Fitr is based on the Islamic lunar calendar, it can be difficult to predict when the festival will take place.

When the new moon appears over Saudi Arabia, the Islamic community break into colorful celebrations, throwing food festivals, performing music and spending time with friends and family.

What is Eid al-Fitr?

The arabic name Eid al-Fitr translates to “festival of the breaking of the fast”.

Eid al-Fitr marks the end of the month-long fast of Ramadan, and the beginning of the Islamic month of Shawwal.

Muslims across the world celebrate Eid al-Fitr after the month-long fast of Ramadan comes to a close.

Muslims across the world celebrate Eid al-Fitr after the month-long fast of Ramadan comes to a close (photo AFP/Getty Images)

What is Ramadan?

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and marks the month in which the Quran was first revealed.

Muslims spend the month fasting from dawn until sunset.

When is Eid al-Fitr observed?

The end of Ramadan is based on the Islamic lunar calendar, so it can be difficult to predict.

Eid al-Fitr is observed when the first new moon is sighted.

This can lead to the festival being celebrated on different days in different parts of the world.

While some Muslims wait to be able to see the moon themselves, many either use the calculated time of the new moon, or base it on the declaration made in Saudi Arabia.

This year, Saudi Arabia announced on Sunday, July 27, that Eid al-Fitr would begin on July 28.

How is Eid al-Fitr celebrated?

On the day of Eid, Muslims gather at mosques in the morning to perform the Eid prayer, before holding family gatherings and visiting friends.

Muslims share feasts and sweets to mark the end of the fasting period, and greet each other by saying “Eid Mubarak” – which roughly translates as “happy Eid” or “blessed Eid.”

The celebrations last for three days, and are seen as a time of forgiveness and of giving thanks to Allah for helping people to complete their spiritual fasting.

Many Muslims display this thanksgiving by giving donations and food to those less fortunate than themselves.

In most Muslim countries, the three days of Eid are observed as public and school holiday.

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Several government departments in Chinese region of Xinjiang have banned Muslim staff from fasting during the month of Ramadan.

One department website said that civil servants cannot “take part in fasting and other religious activities”.

The move comes amid tightened security in the region which has been hit by a growing number of violent attacks.

Authorities blame separatist Muslim Uighurs, but Uighur leaders deny they are behind the attacks.

China restricted Ramadan fasting for Xinjiang’s officials

China restricted Ramadan fasting for Xinjiang’s officials

Activists have accused Beijing of exaggerating the threat from Uighur separatists to justify a crackdown on the Uighurs’ religious and cultural freedoms.

State-administered Bozhou Radio and TV University said on its website that the fasting ban applied to party members, teachers and young people.

“We remind everyone that they are not permitted to observe a Ramadan fast,” it said.

Similarly a weather bureau in western Xinjiang was reported by the AFP news agency to have said on its website that the ban was “in accordance with instructions from higher authorities”.

With Beijing blaming extremist Uighurs for growing violence, the ban is likely to be seen by many Muslims as an attack on their religion, further increasing tensions.

Among those imposing a ban are a commercial affairs department and a government hospital which got Muslim staff to sign a written pledge that they would not fast.

State-run newspapers have in addition been running editorials warning about the health dangers of fasting.

Many Uighurs say that the suppression of their cultural and religious freedoms is fuelling the unrest in the region and attacks elsewhere in China.

Last month 13 assailants were killed in an attack on a police station in the restive province.

The US has announced it will keep some of its embassies in north Africa and the Middle East closed for up to a week, due to a possible militant threat.

Twenty-one US embassies and consulates closed on Sunday.

The State Department in Washington said the extended closures were due to the exercise of caution, and not a reaction to a new threat.

US diplomat missions in Algiers, Kabul and Baghdad are among those which will reopen on Monday, Washington said.

A state department global travel alert, issued on Friday, is in force until the end of August.

The US will keep some of its embassies in north Africa and the Middle East closed for up to a week, due to a possible militant threat

The US will keep some of its embassies in north Africa and the Middle East closed for up to a week, due to a possible militant threat

The department said the potential for an al-Qaeda inspired attack was particularly strong in the Middle East and North Africa.

Embassies closed on Sunday, a working day in the Muslim world, included Amman, Cairo, Riyadh and Dhaka.

The embassy closures and US global travel alert came after the US reportedly intercepted al-Qaeda messages.

It has been suggested that they were between senior figures talking about a plot against an embassy.

Referring to the Middle East, the state department said: “Current information suggests that al-Qaeda and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks both in the region and beyond, and that they may focus efforts to conduct attacks in the period between now and the end of August.”

The travel alert called for US citizens to be vigilant, warning of “the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure”.

An unnamed US official has said the threat could be related to the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ends this week.

Several European countries, including the UK, have temporarily shut missions in Yemen.

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Authorities in Dubai are launching an initiative of offering gold in return for weight loss in an scheme to encourage healthier living.

Those interested can sign up from Friday for the initiative which lasts over the next 30 days and coincides with Ramadan, a month of fasting.

For each kilogram lost, participants will receive a gram of gold, which is currently worth about $45.

Those taking part – dubbed “golden losers” – need to lose at least two kilos to receive the payout.

The three participants who lose the most weight will be entered into a draw to win a gold coin worth $5,400.

Authorities in Dubai are launching an initiative of offering gold in return for weight loss in an scheme to encourage healthier living

Authorities in Dubai are launching an initiative of offering gold in return for weight loss in an scheme to encourage healthier living

Called Your Weight in Gold the scheme was announced by Hussain Nasser Lootah, director general of Dubai Municipality.

“Ramadan is the most appropriate season to launch such initiatives as it reminds us about many health benefits of reducing weight and encourages us to take strong steps to change our bad lifestyles,” he said.

There has been alarm across Gulf States at the sharp rise in obesity blamed on increasing fast-food diets and a lack of exercise.

The Your Weight in Gold scheme is being sponsored by the Dubai Gold and Jewellery Group and Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC).

Ahmed bin Sulayem, executive chairman of the DMCC said: “We would highly encourage everyone from all walks of life to take part in this great initiative and hope DMCC’s contribution of AED 100,000 [$27,225] worth of gold coins will help motivate individuals.”

At Friday’s registration participants will be able to receive advice on how to lose weight without harming their health.

The final weigh-in will take place on August 16.

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Practicing Muslims across the world are observing Ramadan. For one month, they are fasting between sunrise and sunset.

But what do Muslims do in a town where the sun never really goes down?

The town of Rovaniemi in Finland lies in a land of extremes.

At 66 degrees north it straddles the Arctic Circle in Finnish Lapland. During midwinter it is cloaked in total darkness. But in the summer it is bathed in daylight.

The long days pose a particular problem for fasting Muslims like Shah Jalal Miah Masud.

Shah Jalal Miah Masud, 28, moved to Rovaniemi – 830 km (515 mile) north of the capital, Helsinki – from Bangladesh five years ago to study IT. He has not had any food or water for 21 hours. And he laughs.

“It doesn’t get dark. It always looks like the same, the sun is always on the horizon and it’s quite difficult to get what the time is actually right now,” he says.

Practicing Muslims across the world are observing Ramadan

Practicing Muslims across the world are observing Ramadan

It is 11:00 p.m. in the evening and the sun has only just dipped below the horizon. The sky has turned a beautiful deep, rich blue. This is as dark as it will get, then the sun will rise again in five hours.

Shah Jalal Miah Masud says it is difficult to fast according to Finnish time and admits he is tired. But despite the hunger and fatigue, he says it is a pleasure to observe Ramadan during the long Finnish days.

There is another option which reduces the number of fasting hours – mark its duration by the rising and setting of the sun in countries far to the south of Finland. Dr. Abdul Mannan – a local Imam and president of the Islam Society of Northern Finland – says there are two schools of thought.

“The Egyptian scholars say that if the days are long – more than 18 hours – then you can follow the Mecca time or Medina time, or the nearest Muslim country time,” says Dr. Abdul Mannan.

“The other (point of view) from the Saudi scholars says whatever the day is – long or short – you have to follow the local time.”

Dr. Abdul Mannan says the majority of Muslims in northern Finland observe either Mecca’s fasting hours or Turkish time because it is the nearest Muslim country to Finland.

For Nafisa Yeasmin, a researcher at the University of Lapland, choosing when to fast has not been an easy decision. She moved from Dhaka in Bangladesh six years ago with her husband and two children.

Her spacious Scandinavian-style kitchen – full of white cupboards and wooden work surfaces – smells of frying onions, turmeric, chilli and cumin.

As she prepares her traditional iftar meal, she recalls her first Ramadan in Rovaniemi when she decided to fast according to Finnish daylight hours, going without food for up to 20 hours a day.

“It was very difficult to follow because in Bangladesh we are used to 12 hours’ daytime and 12 hours’ night-time,” she says.

“Then I thought, not any more. I have to follow Mecca’s timetable. But I’m a little bit worried whether Allah will accept it or not.”

Many Muslims come to Finland as refugees from all over the world, particularly Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan. Since 2001, Finland has accepted 750 refugees a year. New arrivals are often sent to live in towns like Rovaniemi in the far north in a government resettlement programmes.

In Rovaniemi the long days are not the only obstacle that fasting Muslims face.

No shop in this town of 60,000 sells halal food, which is prepared according to Islamic law. The nearest town, Oulu, that does is 300 km away. Another option is Lulea, across the border in Sweden.

Nafisa Yeasmin opts for Lulea, which is a six-hour round trip journey by car, with a shopping list full of items, including black chickpeas, dates, rice crackers and lots of halal meat.

Understandably, she has stocked up for the whole month of Ramadan. To make her point, she opens her huge white fridge – covered in her children’s school photos – to reveal all seven trays crammed full of frozen halal meat.

Yeasmin and Masud both enjoy life on the Arctic Circle and say local people are very welcoming and respectful of their religion.

But they say it is hard to be thousands of kilometres from home, family and friends during a major religious festival.

“We used to break the fast and share the iftar meal together. Now I do it on my own,” says Miah Masud.

“It’s like normal life here, no feeling of a festival. I feel like I’m missing something.”

60,000 Muslims live in Finland

• 1% of population is Muslim

• Tatar Muslims from Russia and Turkey brought Islam in the 1870s

• They worked as merchants in the Helsinki area, trading furs and textiles