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When Does Ramadan Start? It's Complicated.

Islam that has been around for the past 1,400 years. Yet figuring out the exact start of the holy month of Ramadan is still a challenge.

If you Google "start of Ramadan" this is what shows up:

Take note of the "dates may vary" part. For much of the Muslim world Ramadan started off a little fuzzy. Without a set date, people got a little confused.

The Islamic Calendar is based off the cycle of the lunar calendar. Ramadan is the first day of the ninth month of this calendar, which is determined by the sighting of the crescent moon. This part — the sighting of the crescent moon — is what really trips people up. There's a whole moon-watching team in the Middle East, but that didn't seem to answer the question this year.

Many turned to Twitter and Facebook for a straightforward answer.

Technically, your local mosque is who you look to for clarity. But even that gets dicey because many communities have more than one mosque in the area.

Nahid Sultana, a resident of Maryland, told me on Facebook:

I go to MCC [Muslim Community Center] and some of my friends go to ICM [Islamic Center of Maryland], so some started fasting today, while others will start tomorrow. It frustrates me that we are not unified even though we live within 15 miles of one another. We're within the same time zone and share the same moon. I just hope we can all agree which day Eid falls on.

After extensive research, I found that the start of Ramadan actually varies depending on which hemisphere you live in. Most observers of the holiday — after sorting through the confusion — start their fasts Wednesday, July 10.

For anyone interested in learning more about why this is so not straightforward, Dr. Zulfiqar Ali Shah, head of the Fiqh Council of North America, outlines some of the nuances in this video:

If you feel a little silly for not knowing the exact date, you're not alone. Even President Obama's staff extended his greetings early via Twitter.

Ultimately, though, Ramadan isn't about synchronizing your watches, but about reflecting and connecting with your community. So whenever you start fasting, Ramadan Kareem.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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