CAIRO - Muslims around the world this week begin the fasting and feasting month of Ramadan amid hopes of violence easing in some of the Islamic world's conflict hotspots but hit hard by rising food prices.
The start of the ninth and holiest month in the Muslim calendar is determined by the sighting of the new moon, which means Muslims in various countries begin Ramadan at dawn either on Sunday, Monday or Tuesday.
Followers are required to abstain from food, drink and sex from dawn to dusk -- and ideally violence -- during the lunar month while gorging on sunset "iftar" meals rendered difficult for many by the global food crisis.
Pakistan marked Ramadan by halting a major military campaign against Taliban rebels on its border with Afghanistan, launched after intense pressure from Western nations.
Taliban militants freed six Pakistani soldiers of the 30 they are holding after they drew lots, with the insurgents pledging not to attack others in a "goodwill gesture."
But in Somalia Islamist militia commander Yusuf Mohamed Siad told reporters that his fighters will intensify attacks against government and Ethiopian forces.
"We will double our attacks against the Ethiopians and their Somali government stooges even during the month of Ramadan until we root out the enemy of Allah from the country," he said.
The start of Ramadan in Iraq saw the US military hand over security control of Anbar, once the most explosive battlefield in Iraq, to local forces.
In the Philippines, where government troops have been engaged in heavy fighting against Muslim rebels in the south, commanders will make "tactical adjustments" because of Ramadan, an official said.
"We are not pursuing the entire MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) or the Muslim civilian population," armed forces chief of staff General Alexander Yano said on Monday.
Ramadan in Lebanon comes after a break in the country's long-running political -- and sporadic military -- strife which allowed for a relatively good tourist season over the summer.
But soaring food prices have left many Lebanese worried about making ends meet, with charities working to provide low-income families with food to survive the month.
Gulf governments enjoying windfalls from high crude prices and high-profile companies are keen to be seen to be sharing some of their wealth with the less fortunate, splashing out on free iftars for the poor.
With inflation running in double digits in many Muslim nations, governments have been trying to ensure an adequate supply of staples in order to prevent retailers from taking advantage of Ramadan to raise prices.
Many governments have warned they would close food outlets found raising their prices.
Jordan meanwhile reduced prices of fuel by around six percent to help cashed-strapped citizens cope with soaring prices, which more than doubled since last year.
In the impoverished Gaza Strip, Muslims braced for another holiday under a crippling blockade, with Israel having sealed off the territory from all but basic goods since the Islamist Hamas seized power in June 2007.
"Ramadan this year is like any other month, because you don't see any of the things that make it special," said father of four Mohammed Abu Sultan while shopping for decorative lanterns.
Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, who holds the current presidency of the Islamic Conference Organisation, urged Muslims to pray for an end to famine, particularly in parched regions of Africa.
In Iran, where Ramadan is likely to start Ramadan on Tuesday, the police warned it will crack down on people violating a ban on eating and drinking in public.
For many Muslims, Ramadan also means spending time with friends and family watching lavish television productions filmed for the occasion.
However, the Egyptian Gazette quoted one man as being "shocked that state-run and privately owned studios wasted 500 million Egyptian pounds (93 million dollars) on producing TV soap operas to be show in Ramadan."
"They did not spend a small fraction of this huge amount of money on helping the poor enjoy a decent meal during this holy month."
Cairo shopper Siham says that Ramadan isn't what it used to be.
"Everything has become too expensive," she said. "I used to buy things without really counting because Ramadan is a feast, but now I have to carefully calculate everything I spend."
Turkish Muslims meanwhile resolved a debate about whether they could resort to appetite suppressing diet patches to get through the daily fast after theologists reassured them they have nothing to worry about.
The patches, cannot be considered as corrupting the fast because their effect amounts to "showering or applying a pomade on the skin" rather than eating, theology professor Kerim Yavuz said