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Muslims usher in Ramadan

Latest update : 2008-09-01

Muslims around the world celebrate the beginning of Ramadan, the holiest month in the Muslim calendar. Ramadan is determined by the sighting of a new moon, which often divides Islamic nations over the exact starting date.

Muslims across the world are preparing for the holy month of Ramadan, which will this year take place amid sharp hikes in food prices and in many countries an ever present fear of violence.
The start of Ramadan, the ninth and holiest month in the Muslim calendar, is traditionally determined by the sighting of a new moon, which often divides  Islamic nations over exactly when to begin the festival.
For the month, followers are required to abstain from food, drink and sex from dawn to dusk. Activity peaks between "iftar", the breaking of the fast at sunset, and "suhur", the last meal of the day before sunrise.
Daily life slows down with many businesses closing early in deference to a religious event which nevertheless could be marred by extremists.
In Pakistan, thousands of police equipped with metal detectors will be deployed outside mosques in cities and large towns to foil any attack as places of worship are crowded during Ramadan, expected to start here Tuesday.
The country is in the grip of a wave of militant bombings and suicide attacks that have seen nearly 1,200 of its citizens killed in the past year in a backlash against Islamabad's pivotal role in the US-led "war on terror".
Military operations in the troubled northwest, however, will be temporarily halted during Ramadan, the government has said, to allow locals to participate.
Closed circuit television, meanwhile, will be used at large mosques.
"People have not stopped coming to mosques despite increased insecurity, but yes, everyone is concerned and keeps inner fears," said Mohammad Shafiq, prayer leader at Karachi's Noorul Anwaar mosque.
But here, just as in the many nations where families are readying themselves for festivities amid spiralling food prices and inflation, costs are foremost on their minds.
The federal government is offering a 1.75 billion rupees (2.5 million dollars) subsidy on essential food items to be sold through a chain of state-run utility stores across the country. But it is unlikely to help some.
"Inflation has affected everything," said Fehmida Shaukat, a housewife from the Liyari slum in this teeming southern port city of 12 million people.
"We usually celebrate Ramadan as a month of prayers and inner joy, but this time round it is hard to celebrate it with the same fervour," she said.
Afghanistan faces much the same problems as its South Asian neighbour.
Police have "special security" in place, deputy interior minister Munir Mangal told AFP, promising "staunch steps" and calling for peace over Ramadan.
Prices of some foods, including the staple wheat, are said to have doubled in parts of Afghanistan over the past year.
"My family can't afford the expense," said a 25-year-old taxi driver named Khushal, who earns 150 dollars a month, and said he would have to borrow money.
In Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim-majority country, prices for essentials such as eggs, meat and cooking oil have surged by as much as 25 percent in one week as the faithful stock up.
In Baghdad, Iraqi security forces have yet to announce any specific measures for Ramadan, but men, women and children have been spending many hours shopping in markets amid an overall fall in violence, currently at a four-year low.
And in the Gaza Strip weary residents will celebrate their second Ramadan since the Islamist Hamas movement seized power in June 2007 under a strict Israeli blockade that continues despite a fragile two-month truce.
Saudi Arabia, which applies a rigorous doctrine of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism, is also gearing up for the festival. It is extremely strict in applying a ban on eating, drinking and smoking in public during daylight hours. Expatriates risk deportation if they are caught violating the rules.
In the Somali capital Mogadishu, where people face daily violence, self-imposed curfews, prolonged droughts and economic woes, the situation is grim. Many people have been unable to go out or buy the foods normally eaten when breaking the fast.
In the Philippines, where government troops have been engaged in heavy fighting against Muslim rebels in the south, commanders will make "tactical adjustments" because of Ramadan, an official said Sunday.

Date created : 2008-08-31