05/06/2019, 13.36
ASIA - ISLAM
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Fasting, prayer and solidarity: Muslims worldwide celebrate the beginning of Ramadan

The holy month of fasting will end on June 4 with the feast of Eid al-Fitr. Public offices and companies reduce working hours. Saudi newspaper praises the acts of charity of "Muslims and Christians". After years of war, in Syria the markets are again crowded. In Iran there are fears of the announcement of new US sanctions.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - More than a billion Muslims today celebrate the beginning of Ramadan, the sacred month that Islam dedicates to fasting and prayer, which varies from a few hours between different nations across the world depending on the first sighting of the crescent moon.

The Saudi Supreme Court has affirmed that "today, May 6, is the first day of Ramadan of the year 1440", with the star sighted - the procedure can vary according to the atmospheric conditions and the distance between sun and moon on the horizon - in different cities and rural areas of the kingdom.

Together with the Saudis, also the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Syria, Egypt, Australia, Turkey, Indonesia and Morocco - to name a few - celebrate the beginning of the holy month for Islam today. It is the first day of fasting and prayer also for Muslims in the United States and Europe. The beginning is instead postponed for a few hours in other countries including India, Pakistan and Iran, the cradle of Shiite Islam.

For almost a month, Muslims refrain from eating and drinking from sunrise to sunset; smoking and sexual relations are also prohibited. The ifa, which breaks the fast, is the main meal within 24 hours and is consumed in the evening. According to tradition this month, God revealed the Koran to the prophet Muhammad. Ramadan will end on the evening of June 4th with the great feast of Eid al-Fitr, marked by celebrations and banquets, which will last until the evening of the following day.

The period of fasting and prayer opens with the sighting of the first glimpse of the new moon, which can vary from country to country. It is one of the five pillars (duties) of Islam together with the pilgrimage to Mecca, canonical prayer, the witness of faith and almsgiving. Its institution dates back to the second year from the "egira" (622 AD), in correspondence with the escape of Muhammad from Mecca to the oasis of Medina. Tradition has it that daily fasting begins when a white thread can be distinguished from a black thread.

Every person who has passed puberty and is healthy of mind and body must follow the precept. Those with psychological problems are exempt, children under the age of puberty, the elderly, the sick, travelers and pregnant, nursing, or just entering the menstrual cycle. Whoever does not fast, however, must pray and carry out an act of charity towards the poor every day. Many parents make children fast (half a day).

In Muslim-majority countries, companies and offices reduce working hours and many restaurants close during the day. People greet each other using traditional formulas such as "Ramadan Mubarak" and "Ramadan Kareem", wishing the recipient a "blessed" and "generous" month. At the same time, the sacred month in recent years has highlighted elements that have little to do with faith, but rather with commerce and business, with advertising pushes to purchases and spend evenings in luxurious hotels.

Presenting the beginning of Ramadan, the Saudi Arabian newspaper Arab News points out that in this period there is greater "unity and closeness" and that "Muslims and Christians promote acts of charity, including meals [for the poorest] all 'outside of the mosques'. In Egypt children light small lanterns (fanoos) and sing traditional songs, while parents decorate streets and squares, as well as prepare traditional foods. In Indonesia, the most populous Muslim nation in the world, children wear traditional clothes, participate in processions and songs on the day of the beginning of the fasting month.

Despite the war, markets in Syria have been crowded by families buying traditional food or drinks, such as tea. Among the other traditions there is the hakawati, which derives from the word "history" and consists in telling stories, myths, fables and passages from the Koran. In neighboring Lebanon, although 40% of the population is Christian, the month of Ramadan involves the entire population, with NGOs and activists promoting common charity initiatives, such as the distribution of food outside mosques and churches. In Iraq, after years of evening curfews the streets (decorated) are once again being crowded with people; people prepare traditional meals, take part in games that characterize the past and enjoy drinks and food inside the premises. In Iran, on the other hand, the consequences of American sanctions are being increasingly felt and are affecting the population, impoverishing it. Furthermore, according to rumors from Washington, President Donald Trump is ready to announce new sanctions against the Islamic Republic in conjunction with the festival, as happened on other occasions in the past. A timing that is convincing more and more Iranians of the US government’s "blatant hostility" towards them.

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