Monday, August 16, 2010

Ramadan begins, Dubai bans eating and smoking in the streets

In Dubai, police are calling on the public to respect the tradition of fasting, reminding Muslims that to break it is a criminal act punishable by law. Last year for instance, local police arrested three people, two Arabs and a European, for violating the ban.
Most troubling is that the arrested a European ~ possibly a non-Muslim for eating during daylight hours. But this is in no way unique to Dubai ~ the arrests of those caught eating or drinking during daylight hours is standard practise across the Islamic world. This is no freedom.

Dubai (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Ramadan began on Wednesday in most Arab countries, a day later among Iraq’s Shias. For all Muslims, this holy month, the ninth month of the Islamic (lunar) calendar, is a time of prayer and fasting. According to tradition, it is when Jibrail, the Archangel Gabriel, revealed the Qur'an to Muhammad. Its main feature is fasting (Sawm), one of the Five Pillars of Islam, the others being the profession of faith (Shahada), prayers (Salah), alms giving (Zakat) and pilgrimage to Makkah (Hajj). For the faithful, it also provides an opportunity to perform Umrah, the lesser pilgrimage.

During Ramadan, Muslims are expected to abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex from dawn to dusk. When the sun sets, iftar, a solemn evening meal, is held, giving Muslims a chance to break their fast and share a moment of hospitality and charity.

This year, the holy month begins in mid-August, in the middle of the hot summer, especially in Arab countries, making daylong fasting difficult. For this reason, Egypt, the largest Arab country, will switch to wintertime for the month so that the fast can end an hour earlier.

Some Muslims try sleeping well into the day. Even though it is not technically a fast breaker, it is considered cheating by some clerics.

In Dubai, police are calling on the public to respect the tradition of fasting, reminding Muslims that to break it is a criminal act punishable by law. Last year for instance, local police arrested three people, two Arabs and a European, for violating the ban.

In this Gulf emirate, it is also unlawful to display and sell food in hotels, shops and outdoor stands two hours before sunset.

Nevertheless, Ramadan is also a time of magnanimity. In the United Arab Emirates, Prime Minister Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum ordered the release of 557 prisoners, including 55 UAE nationals.

In Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, the government is using this opportunity to crack down on Internet pornography. At a press conference, Communications Minister Tifatul Sembiring called on Muslims to "keep hearts clean in the holy month”. At the same time, he ordered police to target websites and media that carried sexual content.

In Mauritania, the government also announced "urgent measures", but in the case of the African nation rising food prices are the target. In fact, during Ramadan, food prices tend to increase considerably as traders and sellers try to take advantage of greater demand associated with the Iftar meal.

In Qatar, the Shaikh Thani Bin Abdullah Foundation for Humanitarian Services (RAF) allocated US$ 8.245 million for Ramadan charity projects, half spent locally providing daily Iftar meals in 14 locations throughout the emirate to feed some100,000 low-income workers, including non-Muslims.

“We do not mind non-Muslim expatriates being part of our programme since it is mainly a humanitarian initiative. They are welcome and we will be happy with that,” Ayed Al Qahtani, RAF director general, said.

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