05/17/2018, 18.20
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Muslims begin to pray and fast to mark the start of Ramadan

Bad weather makes it hard for Saudi experts to see the new moon. Working hours are cut in the UAE where the authorities have issue warnings against car and domestic accidents. About a thousand prisoners are pardoned. Mideast airlines in offer iftar meals.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – Muslims around the world today began the first day of Ramadan, the traditional period of the year set aside for fasting and praying.

After consulting the calendar and observed – with difficulty due to bad weather – the new moon rises in the sky, Saudi experts and scholars said that the holy month was due to start on 17 May in Riyadh and in several other Arab and no-Arab nations.

The latter include the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Yemen, Jordan, Iraq, Palestine, Egypt, Sudan, Tunisia, Syria, Turkey, Indonesia, Malaysia, Russia, Australia, Singapore, Japan, France and India.

Ghana was one of the few countries that began earlier. The country’s chief imam, Sheikh Usman Nuhu Sharubutu, called on the faithful to begin the period of fasting and praying on 16 May.

In some parts of the continent – Somalia, Kenya and Nigeria above all – the authorities are on high alert for fear of terrorist attacks.

For about a month the faithful will refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual relations from dawn to dusk. The iftar, the meal that breaks the daily fast, is taken in the evening.

According to tradition, God revealed the Qurʾān to the prophet Muhammad during this month.

This year, Ramadan will end on the evening of 14 June with the great feast of Eid al-Fitr, marked by celebrations and banquets.

The period of fasting and prayer usually beings with the first glimpse of the new moon, which can vary from place to place.

Ramadan is one of the five pillars (duties) of Islam along with the pilgrimage to Makkah (Hajj), prayers (Salah), the declaration of faith (Shahadah) and almsgiving (Zakāt).

It was first observed the second year after the Hijrah (622 AD) when Muhammad fled Makkah for the oasis of Yathrib (Madīnah).

Every person who is gone through puberty and is healthy in mind and body must fulfil this obligation.

Tradition has it that fasting begins when one can distinguish a white thread from a black thread. In villages and towns, it is announced by the muezzin who calls everyone to prayer.

In recent years, the holy month has become associated with things that have little to do with the faith, but more with commerce, business, and advertising pressures to buy and spend evenings in luxurious hotels.

In the United Arab Emirates, working hours are reduced to help people tired from fasting. Local authorities have also warned drivers that fasting can cause irritability and loss of concentration.

The country’s health authorities have also issued a warning urging people to be prudent. Traffic and domestic accidents go up during the month. Similarly, with respect to food and nutrition, bad habits have emerged with a negative impact on people's health.

Some actions combine marketing and religious affairs. Qatar Airways for instance is serving special iftar meal boxes on some of its flights throughout the holy month.

‘Ramadan Kareem’ boxes will be offered in flights in the Middle East, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and Africa. They will include dates, Arab bread, laban, Arabic sweets and mixed nuts. Special meals – for all cabin classes – are also offered by Fly Emirates and FlyDubai.

Last but not least, UAE Vice President and Prime Minister and Dubai Ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al signed the papers to release almost a thousand prisoners who were pardoned to mark Ramadan.

The gesture is meant to allow them the “opportunity to reintegrate into the fabric of society” and bring joy to their families during the holy month.

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