After traditional pre-fasting preparations, Maldivians joined Muslims around the world on Saturday to begin the holy month of Ramadan.
The Islamic ministry’s moonsighting committee announced Thursday night that May 27 will be the first day of the fasting month as the new moon was not sighted by dusk.
The sighting of the new moon marks the beginning of the Muslim lunar month, which lasts between 29 and 30 days. If the moon is not sighted on the night of the 29th, the month lasts 30 days.
While most Muslim majority countries, including Saudi Arabia, began Ramadan on Saturday, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and Shia Muslims in Iraq declared May 28 to be their first day of Ramadan.
As in previous years, the government’s working hours have been reduced to between 10 am to 2 pm and schools will begin late at 8 am and end at 2 pm.
The economic ministry authorised cafés and restaurants to stay open till 3 am and extended closing hours of shops to 11 pm until the end of the Eid al-Fitr holidays, a week after the end of Ramadan.
Some 34 cafés and two guesthouses in Malé and Hulhumalé were also authorised to discreetly serve food to tourists and expatriates during day time.
During Ramadan, all adult and able-bodied Muslims are enjoined to fast from dawn to dusk, abstain from bodily pleasures, and focus on self-reflection, prayer, and charity. Fasting is one of the five pillars of the Islamic faith.
Maldivians traditionally prepare for Ramadan by refurbishing and cleaning homes, stocking up on food, and organising pre-Ramadan meals called maahefun for relatives, friends, and work colleagues.
Workers in the Maldives are also entitled to MVR3,000 (US$195) as a mandatory Ramadan bonus.
In a relatively new tradition on the eve of Ramadan, Maldivians exchanged ‘Ramadan Mubarak’ and ‘Ramadan Kareem’ greetings on social media platforms.
On Saturday afternoon, the local market in Malé was meanwhile packed with shoppers with high demand for watermelons, mangos, papaya, and bananas brought to the capital from across the country.
Prices of local produce such as coconut, chillis, and watermelon shot up in the days before Ramadan due to increased demand coupled with lower supply following a recent bout of bad weather.
Heavy rainfall last week damaged agriculture fields on the island of Thoddoo in Alif Alif atoll, the country’s largest producer of watermelon.
State Minister Abdulla Mohamed told the press Thursday that the economic development ministry will monitor the market and take measures to control prices.
He warned of punitive action against businesses that jack up prices of foodstuff “without valid reasons or because of a natural disaster or high import prices” and urged the public to inform the authorities.
Locally grown chillis were selling for MVR600 (US$39) per kilo at the local market on Saturday. The price of watermelon ranged from MVR15 to MVR20 per kilo.
Earlier this month, the State Trading Organisation, the country’s main wholesaler, brought in a large shipment of onions, potatoes and eggs for sale at low prices.
The police meanwhile announced that some roads will be closed to traffic and designated no-parking zones for Ramadan. Some roads were also temporarily changed to one way.
The changes were part of a special traffic operation launched Thursday in anticipation of traffic congestion in Ramadan.
Late afternoon motorbike rides around the island is a popular pastime during the month.