The muslim holy month of Ramadan will begin across the Gulf region, including Iran from Saturday, even as the outbreak of swine flu has cast a cloud over the Umrah -- the minor pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

The fasting month will begin in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other countries in the Gulf region on August 22, a Kuwait News Agency report confirmed.

"The Moon Sighting Committee oversees the sighting of the new moon and uses all required preparations as well as technical capabilities that aid those with experience in announcing the sight of the new moon," the committee said in a statement.

Because Islam follows a lunar calendar, this holiest of months begins each year about 11 days earlier, its commencement traditionally determined by the sighting of the new moon.

After the moon failed to be spotted last night, the first possible sighting, it is expected today, with fasting to begin at daybreak tomorrow.

This will apply to Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Qatar, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen and Iran. In Mecca, the birthplace of Islam, pilgrim arrivals surged this week ahead of Ramadan, but the numbers were well below usual. Egypt, Iran and Iraq are among countries that have restricted permissions to undertake the minor pilgrimage, or umrah, during Ramadan because of swine flu.

Keywords: Ramadan

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