Jakarta (AsiaNews/Agencies) – For the majority of the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims, Ramadan the holy month of fasting, prayer and abstinence from sunrise to sunset, began yesterday. The first day of Islam’s sacred ninth month is determined by the new moon and this may vary from country to country: in Libya and Nigeria, for example it began on the 12 of September.
During the course of the month practising Muslims must abstain – from sunrise to sunset – from drinking, eating, smoking and sexual activities. In many nations, by law, offices reduce their working hours. Fasting (sawm) during these 30 days is the fourth of the five pillars of Islam. When the sun sets, fasting is broken (iftar). Tradition stands that a date is eaten, just as the Prophet did. Or in alternative a glass of water may be drunk.
In Indonesia, the most populous Muslim nation in the world, the beginning of Ramadan was marked by a violent earthquake, with a death toll that so far counts 14 people. Radical Islamic groups in the archipelagos have already warned they will act against nightclubs and other "dens of vices" that disregard restricted opening hours for the month.
In southern Thailand, the army lifted a night curfew meant to pressure separatists in Muslim provinces, to allow families to move freely and gather for suhur, the last meal before dawn.
In Bangladesh the provisional government offered a 20% discount on rice throughout the country, while in Dhaka, it has opened up hundreds of low cost food outlets.
In the crowded Egyptian capital of Cairo, traffic surveillance has been increased to prevent pre-sunset jams and accidents, when its 18 million inhabitants rush home to their only meal of the day.
In Persian Gulf nations, Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, restaurants are forbidden to open during the day for the entire month of Ramadan. In Kuwait those who eat during the day or encourage others to do so will be fined 356 euro or given a months detention. In Arabia, the cradle of Islam, over 1 million pilgrims are expected for the Umrah, the small pilgrimage to Mecca.
Afghanistan has also restricted restaurant opening times to the evening, while public offices will close by 1.00 in the afternoon. The Taliban have threatened to launch fresh attacks during the holy month on both the government and foreign forces.
In the Iraqi capital the night time curfew has been reduced, above all in the wake of the US forces claims that violence and attacks have “diminished”. Shorja market is a hive of activity with people stocking up on spices, tea, sugar and nuts. In Baghdad the Sunni community began Ramadan yesterday a day later than the Shiites.
In the West Bank and Gaza the rival governments of Hamas and Fatah agreed to begin Ramadan together yesterday, in an attempt to preserve at least the impression of unity during the holy month. In a goodwill gesture, the radical Islamic group in power in Gaza announced that it will free 80 prisoners, among them 25 members of Fatah.