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Egypt’s long, hot summer just got hotter

This year, Ramadan falls in summer, inflaming passions over its timing and the general level of observance.

An Egyptian Muslim man cries while praying outside Amr Ibn El-Aas mosque in Cairo during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on Sept. 27, 2008. Many Muslims are bemoaning the fact that this year's Ramadan, which officially starts Saturday, comes during the sweltering summer months for the first time in a quarter of a century. (Amr Dalsh/Reuters)

CAIRO, Egypt — It’s hardly been a miserable summer by Egyptian standards. The heat, usually scorching, has been bearable. The humidity, which has a tendency to appear several times each summer, has largely stayed away.

But things are about to heat up.

Ramadan, as of Saturday, Aug. 22, is officially underway, with all of its ancient traditions, modern twists, and — this year — the addition of midsummer heat.

It’s been more than a quarter century since Ramadan last fell during the summer months. Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar, which, because it’s lunar, advances a couple weeks each year against the Gregorian calendar.

The month of fasting started with one of Islam’s quirkiest traditions. Several members of Egypt’s clerical establishment gathered just south of Cairo in the hope of spotting the first sliver of moon that would herald the new month.

Technology has made it possible to determine when there is a new moon. Religious leaders around the world, though, continue to look for the moon in the night sky before announcing a start to the month.

Though Saturday was the anticipated start date for Ramadan, the clerics gathered Thursday night to make sure the moon didn’t appear a day early. That meant that no one knew for certain, until Friday, that Ramadan was to begin the following day.

Each year, certain camps suggest that the start of Ramadan be standardized and based on calculations of the moon’s position. The idea has gained little traction in Egypt. (Turkey opted to enter Ramadan on Friday based on the math.)

In the meantime, Ramadan days are bound to get hotter and longer for the next seven or eight years, with potentially explosive consequences.