Ramadan: Things you might need to know

It’s the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and Muslims have been fasting throughout it for more than 14 centuries. And yet non-Muslims are always full of questions. Here are the answers to some of the most common:

 

So you don’t eat at all?

No, we only fast during daylight hours – from dawn until sundown. This year in the UK, that means over 18 hours of nil by mouth – we can’t eat, drink, smoke, or have sex during those hours.

 

Don’t you get hungry?

Yes, we get hungry and thirsty, but that’s the point. We eat Sehri, a pre-dawn meal, and at sunset we break the fast (called Iftar), usually with a date and a glass of water.

 

A date with whom?

A date with introspection. Ramadan is an opportunity to focus on the soul rather than the body, so we get through the day trying to be more spiritual, as well as seeking to improve our behaviour. We empathise with those in need and give thanks for having food at the end of the day, when millions of people don’t have that luxury.

 

Surely kids don’t have that kind of self-control?

Children don’t have to fast, but they can if they really want to. Although once puberty hits, there is no escape. Also exempt are the elderly, the sick, and anyone who has a medical condition.

 

Isn’t it a bit hot to fast in July?

Muslims follow the lunar calendar, so every year it moves back 11 days. The last time Ramadan was in July was 1980. Go figure.

 

So it all started on Wednesday?

Well, not quite. Every year there is a bit of chaos, because of the different ways of measuring. Generally speaking, Muslims follow the traditional method of sighting the new moon with the naked eye and we look to Saudi Arabia to declare it. Then there is the local sighting issue – do we follow the moon being sighted in the UK or do we follow the opinion that the first Muslim to see the new moon, no matter where, means the rest of the world can start Ramadan? Or there is the argument for astronomical calculations rather than naked-eye sightings.

 

I’m confused. Do you celebrate it every time you see the moon?

No, that would be ridiculous. But it is confusing. Especially when it comes to Eid.

 

And who is this Eid?

Eid is basically a rave-up at the end of Ramadan, when families and friends get together to feast after fasting. It starts with a prayer at the mosque and then we eat as if we haven’t eaten in a month.

Ramadan 2013: Fasting for the body, food for the soul

Ramadan in Britain during the early Eighties was very different from the way it is now. There was no awareness of the rotating month of fasting in the Islamic calendar, no flexibility to working hours, no facility for prayer in offices and no calls for prayer on television. For one month every year, my family and I would undertake this annual Islamic duty furtively, tip-toeing around for the pre-dawn meal for fear of waking up the neighbours with the kitchen clatter, and reluctant to talk about the practice for fear of censure or mockery. The Eid festival that marks the end of Ramadan is also increasingly celebrated in public venues around the country, including Trafalgar Square in London. Channel 4 announced last week that it would broadcast one out of five “calls for prayer” during the month-long fasting period.

 

Four decades on, Ramadan is marked far more openly in Britain. Some employers are offering flexi-time to those Muslims who, from this week, will undertake a daily fast for 30 consecutive days that will involve around 19 hours of abstention from all food and drink – from sunrise to sunset. Some firms are allowing Muslims to begin their working day later, so they can catch up on sleep after waking up at 3am to eat, and to end their shifts earlier, so that they are not working when they are physically weakened. Now, fasting seems to have been reinvented as the ancients saw it – a way of giving the body a rest, cleansing both physically and spiritually, and a way of sharpening our collective sense of self-restraint. These objectives are being resurrected in our obesity-riddled Western world, with its binge culture, its childhood obesity and its addictions to food.

 

Dr Michael Mosley’s Horizon investigation in 2012, which studied the effects of intermittent fasting, presented medical evidence for the life-extending and life-improving benefits of fasting on the human body, though this is still contentious territory in the scientific and nutritional community. Even grander claims came from American scientists last year who said that fasting for regular periods could help protect the brain against degenerative illness.

 

Faith and fasting: Ramadan rules

* Fasting at Ramadan is deemed to be one of the “five pillars of Islam”, which are the basis of the Muslim faith. Only children or those health conditions or children are excepted from fasting.

* Fasting is seen to cleanse the soul from worldly impurities. It also serves to formally train Muslims to repel negative social vices through self-control and restraint.

* In the UK, 2.7 million citizens are Muslim, according to the 2011 census, comprising 4.8 per cent of the population. Among under-25s, the figure is 10 per cent.

* Advice on how to deal with Ramadan is widely available to schools, which are largely tolerant and flexible. Stoke-on-Trent city council advised in 2010 that schools should rearrange exams, cancel swimming lessons, sex education and school-wide social events during Ramadan, as well as offering school meals as packed lunches to take home to facilitate flexibility.

We British go out of our way to avoid using the word ‘Muslim’

Have the Brits got a problem with “Muslims”? The author notices that on British television news coverage the lengths to which some reporters went to in order to avoid using the word “Muslim”.

 

Now if we categorise court defendants by their religion, we are saying – in effect – that their religion must have some relevance to their crime, or to their propensity to commit crime. We don’t routinely identify men or women charged with criminal offences as “Christian”, “Buddhist”, “Jewish” or, for that matter, atheist, because this, too, would suggest that our belief – or non-belief – in Jesus, Buddha or Yahweh has a connection to our criminal intent. We may be described as “British” in a court appearance – to distinguish us from French or Spanish citizens with whom we are accused of consorting in crime – but never as British Catholics.

 

Criminals of Pakistani or Bangladeshi origin, Muslims though they probably are, are technically of “Asian background”. The catch is that the word “Asian” – according to the author – means Chinese. Or Japanese. That’s not a dated or a racist idea. Visiting an Asian restaurant in London, people don’t expect to eat Arab food. If acquaintances say they are bringing an Asian friend to dinner, expect to see a Chinese or a Japanese or a Burmese or a Thai or a Malaysian. Or Indian (albeit they may be Muslims). Chinese, after all, constitute more than a quarter of Asia’s 4.3 billion population. But if they are bringing a Muslim friend, they would say just that, or Iranian or Pakistani or perhaps – if they were from the “Western” end of the Muslim world – Arabs. The real subject to be confronted here, is whether the misogynistic, patriarchal world in which so many Muslims do indeed live has somehow leached over into crime; whether there actually is a connection between the Muslim identity of the men in Oxford and their crime; no, not their religion, but their background, call it “social”, cultural”, political or whatever. The 500 Imams obviously thought there was a connection. That’s why they all preached the same sermon at the same time.

 

The author’s argument is far larger than this. The 9/11 attacks brought down a lot of the sensibilities about “Muslims”. The killers were Arab Muslims. And reporters said so. But what could not be discussed was that almost all were from Saudi Arabia and that the identity of these men might suggest there were problems in the Middle East, which must not be the subject of conversation since it might involve America’s relations with Israel. But nobody referred to the hijackers of 9/11 referred to as an “Asian gang”. Which they were, were they not?

Muslims in Brescia Begin Ramadan

July 9, 2013

Faith and integration. Starting today, in private homes and mosques in via Corsica and in via Volta. One month of great celebrations but also of “abstentions” says Bar Abdoulaye Diouf, a 28 year resident of Italy: “I would like the mayor to give us best wishes, as in Senegal”

“I wish a happy Ramadan to the whole Islamic community of Brescia and launch a message of peace and serenity to the Christian Brothers, to overcome this difficult time of crisis.” Saar Abderrazak from Tunisia, who has been in Italy for 26 years, began his Ramadan, the holy month for Muslims, during which the faithful are obliged to abstain from food and drink and sexual activities from dawn to dusk. Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam and is traditionally observed in Brescia, where there are 48.6 percent Muslims and 38.1 percent Christians (between Orthodox and other rites), 2.2 percent Buddhists, the 1.4 percent Hindus, .7 percent Sikhs and 2.6 percent non-believers.

Percentages come from the 12th report on immigration in Lombardy, debunking the idea of ​​the alleged “Islamic invasion,” because the faithful of Allah are only 10 percent more than the faithful of Christ. The city has had historically high immigration. Slowly Brescia is getting used to, if not fully accepting, Ramadan the feast and sacrifice, the moment of spiritual elevation and solidarity, as it was at one time, for Christmas. Comparison is not risky, since both religions, if genuinely understood; convey messages of peace and love, even for those who do not believe. And comparing Ramadan and Christmas is not risky from the point of view of tradition: both parties provide opportunities for sharing of food, gifts, affections, as well as traditional dishes which are specially cooked during holy times. The main difference is in the period, Christmas is always celebrated at the same time (but it does change for the Orthodox) whereas Ramadan changes each year, because the Muslim calendar refers to the lunar cycle.

BRESCIA observes today the beginning of this feast, which for Muslims holds a deep sense of faith and spirituality, this is obviously different from the way they lived in their own homeland, where all (or almost all) follow the precepts of Ramadan. “The ugly part of Ramadan in Brescia is when people continue to ask annoying questions and when they do not understand why I do not eat and do not drink, and so, I always have to justify myself” explains Ak-ram Harrane, who has been in our city after being born and raised in Morocco. In Brescia, Harrane spends Ramadan with family, sometimes with other Muslim friends, especially in the last days of the month, when the final party is approaching, Eid el Fitr, which in some country lasts three days. Of course, in Italy Ramadan has another flavor: Iftar for example, the daily breaking of the fast at sunset for Muslims from all backgrounds from Bangladesh to Palestine – the ritual includes eating dates and drinking sweet syrup as the first action just after the prayer.

Monia Ali knows the differences well, a college student with a Sicilian mother and a Tunisian father: “The best thing about Ramadan is to be with the family, the sharing of the hardest times of the day and the smiles we exchange when it finally comes time for dinner. The half-hour before eating is the most fun… In Tunisia, Ramadan is magical, I live with more enthusiasm with my cousins ​​and my relatives and we are closely linked. In Brescia is not the same thing because it’s just me and my father and it’s not the same effect: the air is different, the sky is different and there is no contact with nature and the earth.”

“Islam-Friendly” Waste Bins Installed in Alkmaar

July 13 2013

 

The Dutch municipalities of Alkmaar has stationed “Islam-friendly” rubbish bins in two of its districts. The “food and bio-containers” are intended to collect bread and other food remains from residents. The municipality website states that “the reason that special food containers have been stationed is to do with the fact that throwing away food does not fit into the Islamic culture… The bread and other food that comes into the containers is not however destroyed, but processed in two stages into re-usable materials.”

 

Channel 4 to air daily Muslim call to prayer during Ramadan

Channel 4 is to air the Muslim call to prayer live every morning during the month of Ramadan. The broadcaster said it was an act of “deliberate provocation” aimed at viewers who might associate Islam with extremism. The headline-grabbing move will see Channel 4 broadcast the three-minute call to prayer at about 3am for 30 days from the start of Ramadan on 9 July. Channel 4 will also interrupt programming four times on the first day of Ramadan to mark subsequent calls by means of a 20-second film to remind viewers of the approaching prayer time. After that date, the channel will air the 3am call to prayer on live TV, and the other four prayer times will be broadcast on its website.

 

Ralph Lee, Channel 4’s head of factual programming, said: “The calls to prayer prompt Muslims to carry out quiet moments of worship, but hopefully they’ll also make other viewers sit up and notice that this event is taking place.

 

“Observing the adhan on Channel 4 will act as a nationwide tannoy system, a deliberate ‘provocation’ to all our viewers in the very real sense of the word.”

 

The Muslim Council of Britain supported Channel 4’s move.

 

The film, made by production company Watershed, will “feature a range of voices, from imams to architects, feminists to a former rock chick, each providing some serious Ramadan food for thought”.

 

But it is not without discussion from within the community:

 

Nabil Ahmed: ‘This is an opportunity to learn’. There could not be a better time to try to understand Islam than during Ramadan. Muslims believe that Ramadan is primarily about one’s relationship with God, and the effort to live in accordance with a divinely ordained order. It is the month in which the Qur’an was revealed, which Muslims believe is God’s final revelation to mankind. It is thus also the month in which Muhammad was sent to warn humanity of future dangers, as a bringer of glad tidings and as a conduit of God’s mercy. TV should be a medium in which we share our understanding of faith in Britain. Ramadan seeks to reawaken our consciousness of God, but also teaches us to give to the poor and to practise self-discipline in relation to our ego and with material temptations. Fasting is a means, not an end, to reconnect with our divine purpose by not relying on food and drink. Channel 4’s approach is an opportunity for all of us to learn – and to put aside preconceived ideas.

 

Nesrine Malik: ‘To reduce it to a media gimmick is exploitative’. Apparently, there is an urgent need, post-Woolwich in particular, to show that Islam is a religion of peace and sacrifice. This is an inherently contradictory stance. If there is such a charged atmosphere in the UK vis a vis Islam, why “provoke” people by projecting this message even more loudly? It all rather smacks of busy-bodying do-goodery. Even on Arab Muslim satellite channels, only the national ones broadcast the call to prayer, with others merely showing a ticker along the bottom of the screen to indicate sunset and iftar times. Channel 4’s idea might be well-intentioned, but it also seems spurred on by the fact that Islam has become the latest topic of media sensation, to be turned into a spectacle under the guise of “debate” and furthering understanding. The way to do this isn’t to project the call to prayer five times a day in a cultural vacuum. It is instead to resist particularising the Muslim experience by attempting to mainstream it by putting some British Muslim faces in front of the camera as something other than religious curiosities to be examined. Reducing it to a media gimmick is exploitative and an unwise, crude way to promote a sensible discussion.

 

Channel 4 was warned not to give excessive coverage to Ramadan. Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society, said: “I wouldn’t object to it as at least it gives some balance to the BBC’s emphasis on Christianity but Channel 4 has to keep it in proportion.

 

McDonald’s drops halal food from U.S. menu

DETROIT — There have been only two McDonald’s restaurants in the U.S. that have offered halal food. Both were in east Dearborn, Mich., which has a sizable population of Arab-American Muslims.

But after a contentious lawsuit that accused the restaurant chain of selling non-halal items advertised as halal, McDonald’s has yanked its Halal Chicken McNuggets and Halal McChicken sandwiches off the menu. The move brings to an end a unique product that made the two McDonald’s restaurants popular with Muslims.

“Those items have been discontinued as a result of our continued efforts to focus on our national core menu,” a spokesman for McDonald’s said Friday.

At one of the two restaurants, the Ford Road location, a sign in Arabic and English on its drive-through menu informs customers that halal items are no longer available. The decision to discontinue the products after a 12-year run drew a mixed reaction in Dearborn: Some were disappointed, while others said it was a good move because McDonald’s had problems before with selling halal food.

The removal of the halal items, which was done last month, comes after a lawsuit filed in 2011 alleging that the fast-food restaurant was selling non-halal chicken it claimed was halal. Halal is the Muslim equivalent of kosher, requiring that meat be prepared according to Islamic guidelines, such as reciting a prayer while the animal is cut. In some cases, employees at the Ford Road location were mistakenly giving non-halal products to customers who asked for halal ones.

Salam, Islam: a Trip inside the Muslim Community

June 6, 2013

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After success with his first novel, Pasquale Nuccio Franco goes back to the library this time with another book.

 

“Salam, Islam” is a travel through the Muslim community, through a number of interviews and articles that have given life to an understanding of spiritual matters, politics and social issues of a religion very often viewed with suspicion if not bitterness.

 

With this work, the author hoped to illustrate the truth essence of Islam and open a window to little known aspects that are often misinterpreted. In fact, many include anecdotes, and stories told in library book pages little known to many.

From the social point of view, the author insists that the collective followers denounce those who now seem to be synonymous with the religion i.e. Islam and radical Islamism.

There are, however, also insights pertaining to market expansion as fashion, food, forms of tourism – including new tourists to the Islamic religion – search engines and the internet and the presence of women no the net and in the economy.

In this respect, the author delves into a topic that in a situation like the present, of the economic downturn, could make it a resource for international markets, namely Islamic Finance, focusing to the rules of Shari’a which is still little known in our country.

From the past, some considerations related to the so-called “Arab Spring”, the role played by the media as a sounding board of this movement and the struggle for greater freedom of information and the effect on the proliferation of newspapers, satellite channels and Internet.

Not the usual book, Salam, Islam’s purpose is to tell the reality as much as possible with objectivity and consistency in a framework that places the Islamic community as a pivotal player of our society.

Pork found in Halal lamb burgers supplied to Leicester schools

Halal lamb burgers have been withdrawn from a city’s schools after tests revealed a sample contained pork. The decision follows DNA tests on a batch of frozen burgers manufactured by Doncaster-based Paragon Quality Foods Limited in January, Leicester Council said today. Assistant city mayor Vi Dempster said: “I am appalled by this situation. It is disgraceful that none of us can have confidence in the food we eat.

All other Halal products used in the council’s kitchens – including 24 city schools – are supplied by another company, the council said and that 19 schools were supplied with the frozen burgers.

The council has written to 6,000 families whose children might have eaten the burgers.

 

Suleman Nagdi, from the Federation of Muslim Organisations (FMO), said: “The community will be extremely shocked and distressed to learn of the contamination that has taken place. The FMO is working closely with the local authority and calling on them to take legal action in respect of this contamination and would urge the local authority to instigate criminal proceedings against the company involved under the Food Safety Act.”

 

In a statement issued today, Paragon Quality Foods said it had “never knowingly bought or handled pork” and it was working with the relevant authorities. “Paragon Quality Foods Ltd is a pork-free site and has never knowingly bought or handled pork and has provided this information to the relevant enforcement authorities.

 

The decision to remove halal lamb burgers from Leicester schools comes after a number of high-profile meat scandals this year. In February, the Ministry of Justice said it was to suspend a firm supplying meat to prisons after tests found that it may have provided halal pies and pasties with traces of pork DNA. Then there was the horse meat scandal in January where investigations revealed beef products sold by retailers including lasagne, spaghetti Bolognese and frozen burgers supplied to several supermarkets including Tesco contained were contaminated with horse DNA.

130 Men Are Starving Themselves to Death Because Political Cowardice Keeps Them Locked Up in Guantanamo

86 Guantanamo prisoners have been cleared for release, yet they rot in prison far from their families. Their only hope is for the world to pay attention again. The U.S. military has acknowledged for the first time the number of prisoners on hunger strike at the military prison has topped 100. About a fifth of the hunger strikers are now being force-fed. Lawyers for the prisoners say more than 130 men are taking part in the hunger strike, which began in February. One of the hunger strikers is a Yemeni man named Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel. In a letter published in The New York Times, he wrote: “Denying ourselves food and risking death every day is the choice we have made. I just hope that because of the pain we are suffering, the eyes of the world will once again look to Guantánamo before it is too late.” We speak to attorney Carlos Warner, who represents 11 prisoners at Guantánamo. He spoke to one of them on Friday. “Unfortunately, they’re held because the president has no political will to end Guantánamo,” Warner says. “The president has the authority to transfer individuals if he believes that it’s in the interests of the United States. But he doesn’t have the political will to do so because 166 men in Guantánamo don’t have much pull in the United States. But the average American on the street does not understand that half of these men, 86 of the men, are cleared for release.”