How Ramadan is celebrated around the world

How Ramadan is celebrated around the world
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Children decorate streets to celebrate the holy month of Ramadan in Al-Beracil village in Giza, Egypt, on May 13, 2018. (Getty Images)
How Ramadan is celebrated around the world
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People break their fast on June 6, 2016, at the Blue Mosque square in Istanbul. (AFP)
How Ramadan is celebrated around the world
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Muslims break their fast in Riyadh on May 30, 2017. (AFP)
Updated 06 May 2019

How Ramadan is celebrated around the world

How Ramadan is celebrated around the world
  • Over a billion Muslims welcome the month with different customs but same focus on spirituality
  • In the Hijaz region they burn Mastic, while in Iraq they hold Mheibes championships

JEDDAH: Muslims worldwide are welcoming the holy month of Ramadan with much anticipation and delight. 

Traditionally marked by the sighting of the crescent moon, more than 1 billion Muslims will celebrate and reflect on their faith as they fast from sunrise to sunset for the whole month. 

Designed to purify the body and focus on spirituality, Ramadan is a time when traditions and customs are highlighted, giving each country its unique spirit.

Every year, Muslims prepare themselves and their homes to focus on the sanctities of the month, as it commemorates the revelation of the Qur’an to the Prophet Mohammed — significant peace comes with that. Homes are calmer, prayers are heard across cities, iftar meals to break the fast are prepared early, youths volunteer and spread joy to the less fortunate, and family gatherings abound — these are just some of the highlights of the month. 

There is unity and closeness; humble, shared meals; the strengthening of bonds; and spiritual reflection. 

Muslims and Christians perform acts of charity by providing large banquets in front of mosques.




A Palestinian holds balloons near Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock on June 25, 2017. (AFP)

With plenty of food to go around, it does not matter if you are poor or rich — the shared experience of generosity brings people together.

Across Saudi Arabia, Ramadan rituals are sacred in many households. As the sun starts to set, homes are filled with the smell of cardamom and Arabic coffee, which is prepared for iftar.

There is also a heady mix of fried dough, prepping for samboosa, and the sweet smell of karkadeh, a hibiscus tea. Across the Kingdom, recitals of the Qur’an can be heard as family members start trickling into their elders’ homes with dishes of Arabic sweets such as lugaymat and atayef (thin pancakes stuffed with cream or crushed fried almonds with syrup).

Saudis break their fast with a few dates and milk or a yogurt drink sometimes mixed with mint leaves. 

Some families arrange a drinks tray of qamar al-din (apricot juice), soobya (a traditional Hijaz drink made from barley or bread doused in water for a few days and sweetened with sugar and raisins) and tamarind juice. Meals are light, and families relax after iftar with traditional sweets and Arabic coffee before Taraweeh prayers.

A very common custom among families of the Hijaz region is to burn mastic (a natural resin or gum extracted from mastic trees) and place jugs above the incense to mix the taste of Zamzam water (filled afterward) with the incense.

Small tin cups called tutuwah are also used to drink Zamzam water, infused with the smell of mastic incense.  




Egyptian dancers perform the Tanoura during Ramadan on May 22, 2018. (AFP)

In Egypt, children run around their neighborhoods swinging a small fanoos (lantern) and singing “wahawi ya wahawi,” a folkloric song that celebrates the start of Ramadan. Egyptians decorate their homes, streets and alleyways with fawanees (plural of fanoos).

Known for their hearty cuisine, their meals are heavy for iftar and light for sahoor, the last meal of the night before resuming the fast. 

Families and friends gather in mosques and pray alongside each other. After concluding prayers, they gather in homes or at cafes under lights and hanging lanterns enjoying shisha and tea. A deeply rooted Ramadan custom in Egypt and across the Levant is the mesaharati, a man who wanders neighborhoods with a small drum waking people up an hour or two before dawn for sahoor, chanting “wake up sleepy, proclaim the oneness of the Everlasting.”

The mesaharati, usually a neighborhood elder, calls each neighbor by name before heading to the next neighborhood.

Despite the war in Syria, many night markets are filled with families shopping or enjoying tea while traditional songs and folklore dances are performed for the public. Another ongoing tradition is the hakawati, or storyteller. Derived from the word for story, hekaya, the hakawati tells tales of myths, heroes and fables, as well as stories from the Qur’an.

While 40 percent of Lebanese are Christian, Ramadan is celebrated by all in Lebanon, with an abundance of stuffed grape leaves, hummus, fattoush and tabbouleh. Charities, civic organizations and businesses host fundraising iftars, and mosques and churches hold clothing drives and distribute Ramadan baskets.

In Iraq, cities have come alive again after years of nightly curfews, and public spaces are filled with people of all ages enjoying post-iftar sweets and tea, shopping and an evening stroll. Locals celebrate together as cities are filled with colors and string lights. 

Mheibes, a traditional Iraqi game, is played in national championships. It is played with two teams of at least 20, with a ring hidden in the palm of a hand, and a member of the opposing team intimidating the players to see who has it.

Among the main dishes in Iraqi households are a lentil soup dish and a stew served with rice or thareed (broken pieces of flatbread steeped in the stew) with chunks of lamb. After iftar, Iraqis enjoy sweet tea and desserts such as mahalabiya, zalabia and halawat sha’iriya (golden vermicelli noodles). 

So while the spiritual intention is the same, different communities display their own unique spirit of Ramadan, preserving customs for younger generations to observe and keep.


France says Turkey ‘deliberately’ snubbed EU Commission chief

France says Turkey ‘deliberately’ snubbed EU Commission chief
Updated 11 April 2021

France says Turkey ‘deliberately’ snubbed EU Commission chief

France says Turkey ‘deliberately’ snubbed EU Commission chief
  • Europe Minister Clement Beaune says Turkey set 'trap' for Ursula von der Leyen
  • Erdogan's snub dubbed 'sofagate' has sparked a diplomatic storm between Turkey and Europe

PARIS: France’s Europe Minister Clement Beaune said Sunday that Turkey had set a “trap” for European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen by forcing her to sit off to the side on a visit to Ankara, in a photo-op faux pas quickly dubbed ‘sofagate’.
The Turkish presidency’s failure to place a chair for von der Leyen alongside President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and EU Council chief Charles Michel was “an insult from Turkey,” Beaune said on RTL television.

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“Turkey behaved badly,” he added, calling it “a Turkish problem done deliberately toward us... we shouldn’t be stirring up guilt among Europeans.”
Von der Leyen’s being shunted aside prompted recriminations from European capitals to Turkey, but also within Brussels.
For its part, Ankara insists the incident was down to tangled wires between the Council and Commission, separate EU institutions.
Michel’s staff claimed they had no access to the meeting room before the Tuesday event, but also highlighted that the Council chief comes before the Commission president under strict international protocol.
“It was a kind of trap... between the one who laid it and the one who walked into it, I’d rather place the blame on the one who laid it,” France’s Beaune said.
Echoing Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, who called Erdogan a “dictator” in response to the sofa incident, Beaune charged that there was “a real problem with lack of respect for democracy and an autocratic drift in Turkey” that should prompt Europeans to be “very firm with the Turks.”
Nevertheless, “in future, it would be good if there was one single presidency of the European executive,” Beaune acknowledged.
“We need stronger European institutions.”


India bans exports of anti-viral drug Remdesivir as COVID-19 cases surge

India bans exports of anti-viral drug Remdesivir as COVID-19 cases surge
Updated 11 April 2021

India bans exports of anti-viral drug Remdesivir as COVID-19 cases surge

India bans exports of anti-viral drug Remdesivir as COVID-19 cases surge
  • Seven Indian companies have licensed the drug from Gilead Sciences
NEW DELHI: India said on Sunday it had banned the export of anti-viral drug Remdesivir and its active pharmaceutical ingredients after a record spike in COVID-19 cases sent demand surging.
“In light of the above, Government of India has prohibited the exports of Injection Remdesivir and Remdesivir Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API) till the situation improves,” the health ministry said in a statement.
Seven Indian companies have licensed the drug from Gilead Sciences, with an installed capacity of about 3.9 million units per month.

Victim of London terror attack will return to rehabilitating prisoners

Victim of London terror attack will return to rehabilitating prisoners
Updated 11 April 2021

Victim of London terror attack will return to rehabilitating prisoners

Victim of London terror attack will return to rehabilitating prisoners
  • Stephanie Szczotko was stabbed by Usman Khan at a rehabilitation event for prisoners
  • ‘I’ve always enjoyed support work and helping people, so I want to carry on with that’

LONDON: A criminology graduate who was injured during the 2019 Fishmonger’s Hall attack in London has said she will return to rehabilitating prisoners.

Stephanie Szczotko, 26, was stabbed in the arm by Usman Khan during his murderous spree at a rehabilitation event for prisoners on license. 

Khan, 28, killed two of his victims — Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23 — both of whom were workers from the Learning Together initiative, a rehabilitation scheme backed by Cambridge University.

The terrorist, who was shot dead on London Bridge by a firearm officer, was wearing a fake suicide vest.

Szczotko, from Bath in the west of England, visited prisons on behalf of the initiative during her criminology degree, and attended the Fishmonger’s Hall event as an alumni of the group.

She has remained an advocate of prisoner rehabilitation and restorative justice efforts, saying the attack “didn’t really change my opinion.”

She added that many of the ex-offenders at the event put themselves in harm’s way by challenging Khan as he started his rampage. 

“I’ve always enjoyed support work and helping people, so I want to carry on with that — maybe working with youth offenders,” Szczotko said.

The inquest into the deaths of Merritt and Jones starts on Monday. Witnesses will give evidence as the inquest seeks to establish what, if anything, the security services and the police knew ahead of the attack.


Official says Chinese vaccines’ effectiveness is low

Official says Chinese vaccines’ effectiveness is low
Updated 11 April 2021

Official says Chinese vaccines’ effectiveness is low

Official says Chinese vaccines’ effectiveness is low
  • Chinese vaccines “don’t have very high protection rates,” said the director of the China Centers for Disease Control

BEIJING: In a rare admission of the weakness of Chinese coronavirus vaccines, the country’s top disease control official says their effectiveness is low and the government is considering mixing them to give them a boost.
Chinese vaccines “don’t have very high protection rates,” said the director of the China Centers for Disease Control, Gao Fu, at a conference Saturday in the southwestern city of Chengdu.
Beijing has distributed hundreds of millions of doses in other countries while also trying to promote doubt about the effectiveness of Western vaccines.
“It’s now under formal consideration whether we should use different vaccines from different technical lines for the immunization process,” Gao said.
The effectiveness rate of a coronavirus vaccine from Sinovac, a Chinese developer, at preventing symptomatic infections has been found to be as low as 50.4% by researchers in Brazil. By comparison, the vaccine made by Pfizer has been found to be 97% effective.
Beijing has yet to approve any foreign vaccines for use in China, where the coronavirus emerged in late 2019.
Gao gave no details of possible changes in strategy but mentioned mRNA, a previously experimental technique used by Western vaccine developers while China’s drug makers used traditional technology.
“Everyone should consider the benefits mRNA vaccines can bring for humanity,” Gao said. “We must follow it carefully and not ignore it just because we already have several types of vaccines already.”
Gao previously raised questions about the safety of mRNA vaccines. He was quoted by the official Xinhua News Agency as saying in December he couldn’t rule out negative side effects because they were being used for the first time on healthy people.
Chinese state media and popular health and science blogs also have questioned the safety and effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine, which uses mRNA.
As of April 2, some 34 million people have received both of the two doses required by Chinese vaccines and about 65 million received one, according to Gao.
Experts say mixing vaccines, or sequential immunization, might boost effectiveness rates. Trials around the world are looking at mixing of vaccines or giving a booster shot after a longer time period. Researchers in Britain are studying a possible combination of Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines.


Philippines to ease some tough COVID-19 restrictions from Monday

Philippines to ease some tough COVID-19 restrictions from Monday
Updated 11 April 2021

Philippines to ease some tough COVID-19 restrictions from Monday

Philippines to ease some tough COVID-19 restrictions from Monday
  • Metro Manila and the provinces of Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna and Cavite will be placed under a less restrictive community quarantine status until April 30
  • The Philippines is battling one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in Asia

MANILA: Strict COVID-19 lockdowns in the Philippines capital and four adjacent provinces will be eased from April 12, a spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte said on Sunday.
Metro Manila and the provinces of Bulacan, Rizal, Laguna and Cavite will be placed under a less restrictive community quarantine status until April 30, spokesman Harry Roque told a virtual briefing.
Roque gave the briefing from hospital where he is being treated for COVID-19. He gave no details on which restrictions will be eased but said details would be released on Monday.
The Philippines is battling one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in Asia, with hospitals in the capital overwhelmed amid record daily infections, while authorities face delays in delivery of COVID-19 vaccines.
On Sunday, the Department of Health recorded 11,681 new COVID-19 cases and 201 more deaths, bringing the country’s tallies to 864,868 confirmed infections and 14,945 fatalities.
New cases have surge in recent weeks, surpassing 15,000 on April 2, most of those in the congested capital.
Last week, Duterte canceled a weekly televised address and a meeting with his coronavirus task force as some of his staff and security detail were found to be COVID-19 positive.
Roque and Duterte’s defense minister, Delfin Lorenzana, also tested positive.
Roque said the government will work to increase the number of COVID-19 beds in health care facilities and free up more room in hospitals.
Under the current quarantine classification for Manila and surrounding areas, non-essential movement is banned, along with mass gatherings and dining in restaurants, with longer-than-usual curfews also in place since March 29.
The reimposition of strict lockdowns has raised concerns the economy will take longer to recover from last year’s worst slump on record.