04/12/2021, 18.10
MIDDLE EAST – ISLAM
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Muslims to fast and pray during Ramadan with social media and 'Halal' vaccines in the background

The holy month begins tomorrow and will end on 12 May with the feast of Eid al-Fitr. This year the COVID-19 pandemic will impose restrictions again. Religious leaders support vaccination, which does not violate the fast. The Chaldean Patriarch extends his wishes, and sees the celebration as an opportunity for “peace and reconciliation”.

Baghdad (AsiaNews) – Ramadan starts tomorrow, marking the second year in which it will take place during the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year, saw mosques closed, people under curfews and evening meals cancelled.

During the Islamic holy month of fasting and prayer, more than a billion people around the world will refrain from food and drink from dawn to dusk, between 11 and 16 hours depending on geographical location, giving them more time to reflect and pray.

The start will vary by a few hours, depending on when Islamic experts announce the first sight of the new moon in the sky, and will end on 12 May with the feast of Eid al-Fitr, traditionally marked by celebrations and culinary delights.

For almost a month Muslims will refrain from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk; smoking and sexual intercourse are also prohibited.

After the daily fast, Iftar, the main meal of the day, is consumed in the evening. It is traditionally a time for meeting and sharing convivial moments but since the start of the pandemic last year, social distancing has restricted the meal to close family members.

According to tradition, God revealed the Qur'an to the Prophet Muhammad during this month. Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam along with Hajj (pilgrimage to Makkah), prayer, profession of faith, and almsgiving.

The practice began in the second year after Hjira (622 AD), with Muhammad's flight from Makkah to Madinah.

Tradition has it that fasting starts when a white thread can be distinguished from a black thread.

The sick and the elderly are exempted and can perform an act of charity towards the poor. Many parents make their children observe a half-day fast.

In recent years the period of reflection and prayer seems to have given way to less sacred and prayerful habits.

According to a recent survey, at least 45 per cent of respondents in the Middle East and North Africa spend more time on their smartphones than at any other time of the year.

The AdColony survey found that 67 per cent of respondents say they use their smartphone during the day. About 75 per cent use it to shop, while 43 per cent say they use it for online games.

The has jumped during the pandemic, which has boosted online sales of ready-made food or ingredients to cook delivered directly to homes. about 63 per cent say they cook more at home than going out.

Another business that has seen significant growth during the holy month is cosmetics and personal care products. About 67 per cent of respondents say they spend more money on this during this period than in the other months of the year.

Like last year, the COVID-19 pandemic will change certain habits as a result of restrictions and prohibitions in many countries where the virus continues to play havoc.

Unable to welcome faithful or limited in their capacity, some mosques have organised prayer services online to encourage the broadest participation.

An increasing number of religious leaders, from Saudi Arabia to Lebanon, have also spoken out on vaccination, stressing that it is not forbidden; indeed, they recommend Muslims to do it, during the day, during Ramadan, because it does not break the fast.

Whether from minarets or via social media, Islamic clerics strongly emphasise that vaccines are “Halal” (permissible), so much so that Saudi Arabia has made it a “necessary condition” for the major (Hajj) and minor (Umrah) pilgrimages.

Recently Saudi Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz al-Sheikh and his Lebanese counterpart Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian agreed that the anti-coronavirus vaccine does violate the obligation of daytime fasting.

Last but not least, Ramadan provides an opportunity for the believers of different religions, especially Christians and Muslims, to exchange good wishes.

One of the first Catholic leaders to do so is the Chaldean Patriarch, Card Louis Raphael Sako, who released a message today, extending his “sincere congratulations and blessings to our Muslim brothers and sisters”.

The prelate hopes that this month can be a special time to “approach God and people through fasting, prayer, acts of charity, mercy, forgiveness and reconciliation, and deepen the bonds of brotherhood, friendship and respect that Pope Francis mentioned” in his visit to Iraq in early March.

Finally, the Chaldean primate hopes that this occasion can eventually lead Christians to be referred to as “People of the Book” in school textbooks in lieu of other, incorrect and unacceptable terms such as infidels or polytheists (takfir, kafir).

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