WASHINGTON, June 17 (UPI) -- Ramadan, the holy month celebrated by Muslims, is set to begin Wednesday evening. Believers will fast from sunrise to sunset to mark the day the Prophet Muhammad received the Koran, according to Islamic scripture.
There are about 1.6 billion Muslims in the world and they believe Ramadan to be the holiest month of the year, which is the ninth moth of the Islamic calendar based on the lunar cycle. Ramadan usually begins about 11 days earlier each year.
The start of Ramadan depends on the sighting of the crescent moon, but is traditionally based on the sighting of the moon in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
As a goodwill gesture, Israel will ease restrictions on Palestinian travel for the month of Ramadan. Palestinians will be able to travel to the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem to worship and Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip will be able to enter Israel to visit immediate family members.
About 650 Palestinians living overseas have been granted visas to visit relatives living in the Judea and Samaria area, as well as Gaza -- with the condition that they leave after the end of Ramadan. About 500 Palestinians have been granted overseas travel through Israel's Ben Gurion International Airport.
Hundreds of Palestinians will also be allowed to make the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, traveling through Israel's border with Jordan.
The Israeli government warned the Palestinian Authority that any acts of violence will not be tolerated and countered.
During Ramadan, healthy men and women are required to fast, or Sawm in Arabic, which literally means "refrain," according to Islamic teachings.
Sawm is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The declaration of faith, or Shahadah; the five daily prayers, Salat; almsgiving, Zaka; and the pilgrimage to Mecca, Hajj, are the remaining four.
Sawm is often used not only to abstain from food and drink, but also abstain from sex, cigarettes and foul language.
Using Mecca as the foundation for determining the beginning and end of Ramadan, as well as sunrise and sunset, helps Muslims worldwide coordinate since fasting may last longer in some places because the sun may be out longer, or may not set at all.
In Alaska or Norway, for example, fatwas, an Islamic law ruling, were delivered by regional Muslim authorities allowing believers to use the sunrise and sunset of Mecca or other places in the country.
This year, the longest fast in the world will be in Reykjavik, Iceland, where it was last nearly 23 hours and the shortest fast will be in Sydney, Australia, where it will last 11 hours and 24 minutes.
Edid al-Fitr is a festival of breaking the fast to mark the end of Ramadan. A sense of community is seen as essential during Ramadan, where people invite their friends and neighbors to iftar, the evening meal to break fast during Ramadan.
During Ramadan, Muslims believe their own desires are decreased, which allows them to understand the position of those less fortunate. Muslims also believe their patience, relationship to God and generosity improve.