RIYADH (AFP) - Islams fasting month of Ramazan begins on Saturday in most of the Arab world and Iran, but swine flu has cast a cloud over pilgrimages to Mecca and might also dampen enthusiasm for the popular evening get-togethers to break the fast. This holy month begins each year about 11 days earlier. After the crescent failed to be sighted on Thursday night, the first possible sighting, it is expected on Friday, with fasting to begin at daybreak on Saturday. This will apply in Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Qatar, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen. However, all Libyans as well Shia Muslims in Lebanon, who determine the lunar month according to astronomical calculations, begun their fasting on Friday, clerics said. Egypt, Iran and Iraq are among countries that have placed restrictions on those permitted to undertake the Umrah, during Ramazan because of swine flu. Normally several hundred thousand people perform the Umrah. The Umrah is popular because the faithful can arrive at any time and do not need the permits that are assigned to countries by quota for the Hajj. However, with flu cases rising, and with the disease having touched nearly all the region, warnings from governments and the World Health Organisation have heightened fears of being in crowded places. After the regions first death in July, health ministers and WHO officials met in Cairo and recommended discouraging or banning people over 65, pregnant women and children under 12 from joining either the umrah or the hajj. Saudi Arabia did not apply mandatory controls but has urged countries to voluntarily implement restrictions. The impact of the pandemic on Ramazan iftar dinners when people sometimes invite hundreds to break the fast together in homes, tents or hotel ballrooms just after sunset has yet to be seen. But Kuwaits health minister has already advised people to stop shaking hands at such gatherings to stem the spread of the disease. While fasting and iftar are the most well-known elements of Ramazan in the popular mind, this month is meant to be a deeply prayerful. It includes the day on which Muslims believe God gave the holy Quran to Mohammed (PBUH). Similar to the Christian season of Lent, Ramazan is a time for greater reflection and more frequent worship, with the faithful focusing on purifying not only their bodies but their souls. Many pious Muslims will endeavour to recite the whole holy Quran, or attend the nightly readings at a mosque that accomplish the same end. Ramazan ends with Eid al-Fitr. On this Festival of Breaking the Fast, communal prayers are held early in the morning. Then people wearing their finest clothes, often bought for the occasion, begin feasting, visiting relatives and friends, giving gifts to children and donating food to the poor.