Thursday, 13 September 2007

Ramadan begins

An elderly Saudi man carries a box of dates at Otaiga market in Riyadh, a day before the start of the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan

Today, most of the world's 1.2 billion Muslims began Ramadan, a holy month of dawn-to-dusk fasting, festivities -- and abstinence.
The start of Ramadan, the ninth and holiest month of the Muslim calendar, is traditionally determined by the sighting of a new crescent moon, often dividing rival Islamic countries and sects over the exact date.
Across much of the Muslim world, Ramadan begins today, although Libya kicked off the festivities on Wednesday, the same day as Nigerian Muslims.
During the holy month, Muslims are required to abstain from food, drink and sex from dawn until dusk as life slips into a lower gear during the day, and activity peaks between "iftar," the breaking of the fast at sunset, and "suhur," the last meal of the day before sunrise.
In Indonesia, the world's most populated Muslim nation, Ramadan began under the shadow of the latest earthquake disaster after a massive 8.4 tremor struck off Sumatra island. At least two people were confirmed dead as emergency teams headed for the remote region.
Meanwhile hardline Indonesian Muslim groups have warned they will act against nightclubs and other "dens of vices" that disregard the restricted opening hours for the month. Elsewhere in Southeast Asia, Thailand's army on Wednesday lifted a night curfew meant to smother a separatist insurgency in Muslim provinces, where people will also begin fasting on Thursday.
In multicultural Singapore, Ramadan is just one of the holidays being celebrated, along with the Chinese mid-autumn festival and the Indian Deepavali festival next month.
In Bangladesh, the government has offered rice at a 20 percent discount around the country, while also opening 100 convenience stores around the capital Dhaka to sell other foods at reduced prices.
"We want poor and middle class people to have a comfortable Ramadan," food secretary Dhiraj Malakar said.
In Cairo, a shopping frenzy began weeks ago despite soaring prices, as the faithful prepare for the first day of Ramadan where extended families break the fast with dates and milk, in accordance with Islamic tradition.
In the teeming city of 18 million notorious for gridlock, traffic police have been banned from taking time off during Ramadan, with extra wardens deployed to control pre-iftar accidents as cars clamour to get home in time for iftar.
Confusion about when Ramadan was starting led some people to wake up in the Afghan capital Kabul at 3:00 am on Wednesday for a pre-dawn meal -- just in case it was the first day of the month-long fast. Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, is preparing to receive around one million pilgrims expected to perform "umrah," or a smaller pilgrimage, to Mecca. As generosity peaks during this month of charity, Kuwait is monitoring fund-raising activities by Islamic charities and has banned any cash donations to make sure that charity money does not reach extremist organisations.

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