Muslims celebrate the start of Ramadan, amid appeals for mercy and food warning

Islam’s holy month of fasting and prayer begins today. King Saudi Salman Saudi mentions the "suffering" in the world because of "terrorism." In Amman Caritas’ restaurant of mercy provides free iftar meals. Chaldean Patriarch issues a message of peace and reconciliation to our "Muslim brothers and sisters". Doctors and nutritionist warn of obesity and eating disorders.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Ramadan began today. During Islam’s holy month of fasting and prayer, Muslims are required to refrain from eating, drinking, smoking, and having sexual intercourse from dawn to dusk.

“In line with the Sharia rule that says that the sighting of the crescent moon of the holy month of Ramadan in a certain country applies to the rest of the countries, [. . .] we accordingly verify that tomorrow, Monday is the first day of the holy month of Ramadan,” said Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Daryan in a statement yesterday.

Earlier in the day, religious authorities in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Jordan, Yemen, Kuwait and Iraq had also confirmed that Ramadan begins on Monday. However, the formal start of Ramadan has sparked a discussion over the fact that for some it has become more of "formal act of faith" rather than opportunity "to show mercy and compassion."

According to tradition, this is the month in which God revealed the Qur‘an to the Prophet Muhammad. During this period, Muslims can eat before dawn (Suhoor), and then take their main meal after dusk (Iftar). The feast of Eid al-Fitr marks its end with celebrations and sumptuous banquets.

The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman addressed the Saudi people, reminding them that this is a time of mercy, and that they “should remember that the whole world is suffering from the disease of terrorism”.

“Islam is the religion of mercy, compassion, love, and moderation. It calls for peace, justice, and renounces violence and extremism,” the king added.

On the occasion of Ramadan even the Chaldean Patriarchate, in Iraq, released a message of peace by joining "Muslim brothers and sisters", to whom he expresses "solidarity and sincere feelings" at this particular period of "fasting, prayer, repentance and change of mentality".

In his "Letter to Muslims", Mar Louis Raphael Sako notes that this time is an "opportunity" to practice "compassion and love".

“In such harsh and worrying circumstances that have troubled the country (Iraq), leaving thousands killed and wounded; millions of displaced people and huge destruction, I urge you to make this month an ‘exceptional Ramadan’ by renouncing sectarianism and fundamentalism, building a culture of reconciliation, promoting shared values of tolerance, neighbourhood and friendship, and endorsing peaceful coexistence, dialogue and mutual respect.” At such a time, the prelate hopes to see all Islamic State held territory freed.

In Jordan, Caritas will mark Ramadan by handing out free Iftar meals as part of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. In Amman this will involve the ‘Restaurant of Mercy’, which the Catholic charity set up as part of the Jubilee proclaimed by Pope Francis.

The restaurant will prepare food that will be handed out after dusk. Local Caritas volunteers, scouts and parishioners will serve the meals.

During this month, Caritas Jordan will also offer five iftar banquets to Jordanians at the hall of the Bisharat Church in coordination with the Ministry of Social Development and other local civic organisations.

It will also provide humanitarian assistance to 2,000 Jordanian families with food packages and hygiene items.

In recent years, food rather than faith has come to play a larger role in the holy month, most notably with respect to health and business.

Advertising and infomercials about food, drinks, and recipes for breaking the fast have led to overconsumption at a time when people tend to slow down as a result of fasting and high temperatures.

Many doctors and nutritionists have already sounded the alarm. Paradoxically, people tend to gain weight rather than lose it during the month of fasting.

Increasingly, people tend to break their fast by eating foot rich in fats and sugars. The sudden surge of such components tends to be harmful for the human body.

In view of the risks, health care specialists have urged people to eat better and maintain a certain level of activity.