US sanctions have pushed up food prices, making the elaborate meals that break their fast an expensive business.
Iranians are preparing for the holy month of Ramadan, in which Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. However, US sanctions have pushed up food prices, making the elaborate evening meals that break their fast an expensive business, when even staples have skyrocketed in price since last year.
Iran's already ailing economy received yet another blow when the US announced last month that it would not renew waivers allowing several countries to continue to import Iranian oil. The national currency, the rial, has been plummeting against the dollar.
Shoppers on Sunday at the capital Tehran's Grand Bazaar buying food to prepare for suhoor and iftar – the meals eaten before sunrise and after sunset respectively during Ramadan – said that prices were becoming unmanageable.
The lively neighbourhood iftar feasts seen in other Muslim countries are not customary in Iran, but the evening meal is a larger and more festive affair than usual, even if it just shared among family at home.
Dates – the traditional suhoor food, eaten before fasting begins each day – have seen a price rise of 25 per cent, from 165,000 rials per kilo last year to 220,000 currently. Zoulbia, special sweets which are eaten at Ramadan, have gone from 140,000 per kilo to 200,000.
Red meat has quadrupled in price since last year from 300,000 rials per kilo to 1,200,000, while the price of chicken has risen from 65,000 rials per kilo to 160,000. The minimum wage in Iran is 12.5 million rials per month – €73.
One Tehran resident at the bazaar said: "When people can't afford even milk and dates, what are they supposed to eat? You go to bed and when you wake up prices have been raised 10 times."
Staples such as Iranian-grown rice and eggs have also seen increases, of 47 per cent and 146 per cent respectively.
As one of the Five Pillars of Islam, Ramadan is an obligation for observant Muslims. Shopper Fateme Esmaili said: "We will fast this year, we can't refuse to fast, since it is a duty and a commitment. But when you can't buy dates or bread and cheese, how should we have suhoor meal? Anyway there is no choice, we should fast, and may God solve these problems."
Meanwhile the country's clerics are keeping watch for the new moon that signals the start of Ramadan, according to the Sharia.
Hossein Edalatian Alavi, who was leading a team of moon-spotters in Rey, south of Tehran, explained: "Either with equipment or if possible with the naked eye, experienced groups try to spot the moon. Then all reports are collected and sent to the central office for moon-spotting at the supreme leader's office.
"They ask moon-spotters very detailed questions about the crescent they have spotted and if the reports are confirmed, the next day is announced as the first day of the holy month."
Muslims in southeast Asia and much of the Middle East, including Iraq and Saudi Arabia, as well as across Europe, began the fasting month on Monday. Millions more, however, in India and Pakistan as well as Iran, will likely be marking the start of Ramadan on Tuesday, based on moon sightings.
This article was updated on 7 May after the current Iranian minimum wage in Iranian Rial (IRR) was recalculated using the live Iranian stock exchange to calculate the market rate.