Muslims welcome holy month of Ramadan with a mix of joy and deep concern

Muslims welcome holy month of Ramadan with a mix of joy and deep concern
Muslim worshippers take part in the evening ‘Tarawih’ prayers during of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, at Al-Aqsa compound, in Jerusalem Old City March 10, 2024. (REUTERS)
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Updated 10 March 2024
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Muslims welcome holy month of Ramadan with a mix of joy and deep concern

Muslims welcome holy month of Ramadan with a mix of joy and deep concern
  • Ramadan is month of dawn-to-dusk fasting, intense prayer, charity and feasts that begins for many Sunday night
  • This year, war and starvation in the Gaza Strip casts an especially dark shadow on the festivities of the holy month

Muslims around the world are welcoming the arrival of Ramadan, a month of dawn-to-dusk fasting, intense prayer, charity and feasts that begins for many Sunday night.
But as they savor the traditions of their own diverse communities — from holiday treats to evening diversions — the tribulations faced by fellow Muslims are never far from anyone’s mind. This year, war and starvation in the Gaza Strip casts an especially dark shadow on the festivities.
Many are also struggling to buy food as inflation remains high in many countries and has worsened in some.
Still, even Muslims who are struggling economically or otherwise look forward to what are widely seen as the true blessings of the holy month — prayer and reflection, nurtured by the daylong fast, and time spent with loved ones.
IN PAKISTAN, A CITY THAT DOESN’T SLEEP
No one does Ramadan better than the people of Karachi, at least according to Maulana Tanveer Ul Haq Thanvi, an Islamic scholar in the city in southern Pakistan.
The congregation at his family-run mosque swells from 10,000 to 15,000 during the holy month, and volunteers are working to make sure there is enough space, food and water for the sunset prayers.
From dawn to dusk, observant Muslims the world over will refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual intercourse. Even the tiniest sip of water would invalidate the fast, which is intended to help focus the mind on prayer and charity.
“In Ramadan, our prayers are heard and the religious observance is day and night,” Thanvi said. “People want to help others who are needier than them, even those who don’t have much to give.” His sermons will focus on “how people should behave with each other, including when Ramadan is over.”
At sundown, many will break the fast with a date or two, as the Prophet Muhammad was said to have done, before attending evening prayers. Then they will gather for “iftar,” a typically lavish feast shared with friends and family, and a festive atmosphere will prevail late into the night.
“Locals don’t go to sleep. You’ll see kids playing cricket in the street after iftar,” Thanvi said.
IN INDONESIA, HIGH PRICES THREATEN HOLIDAY FEASTS
Muslims liven up their iftar spreads with their own local delicacies. In Egypt, the shelves are lined with qamar el-din, a sticky apricot treat. In Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, sidewalk vendors make qatayef — tiny pancakes stuffed with cream and nuts and drizzled with syrup.
In Indonesia, with the world’s largest Muslim population, Ramadan rituals vary by region, reflecting the country’s rich and varied culture. Many celebrate with rendang — meat braised in coconut milk and local spices.
This year, it will be harder to come by, as the country grapples with soaring food prices because of worldwide inflation and a poor local rice harvest.
Sari Yanti, a mother of three, stood in a long line at one of several distribution points in the capital, Jakarta, to purchase state-subsidized rice and other staples, saying it had never been this bad. “Prices are going up nowadays — anything to do with cooking is rising,” she said.
Mosques and charities across the Muslim world organize free iftars for the poorest, and sometimes it’s the only meat they will eat all year.
IN EGYPT, MANY STRUGGLE DESPITE FESTIVE ATMOSPHERE
In Cairo, the streets are decked with colorful Ramadan lanterns, bakeries are hawking holiday sweets and television networks are promoting prime-time soap operas, hoping to capitalize on nightly food comas.
“Ramadan is a month of prayer, but also of desserts,” one man quipped as he waited in line outside a bakery displaying trays of holiday sweets, including baclava, qatayef and kunafa — a syrupy delight made with shredded pastry and topped with crumbled pistachios.
But here too, beneath the normal holiday veneer, many are struggling. The government floated its currency last week as part of an emergency bailout from the International Monetary Fund, causing prices to skyrocket.
One out of every three people in Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country, was already living in poverty, and in recent years even the middle class have struggled to make ends meet.
“The situation has been very difficult,” said Abdel-Kareem Salah, a civil servant and father of four, as he shopped for groceries ahead of Ramadan in the working class neighborhood around the famed Sayeda Zaynab mosque, where the alleys are strung with lights and lanterns.
“We just purchase the necessities,” he said. “For us, and many like us, meat has become a luxury.”
IN THE UNITED STATES, ‘A SENSE OF GUILT’ OVER GAZA
Sonia Uddin, a second-generation Pakistani-American living in Orange County, California, said that her family sometimes enjoys hamburgers for iftar and coffee and donuts for suhoor, the pre-dawn meal right before the daily fast begins.
She strives to maintain the traditions of her immigrant parents, but said that her 14-year-old son “is really more Western than Eastern,” and insists on American-style food as they observe the holy month half a world away from the cradle of their faith.
She looks forward to attending nightly prayers, drinking tea with friends and catching up with people she hasn’t seen for the past year.
But for her and many other Muslim Americans, those joyful moments will be shadowed by concern for Gaza, where a five-month Israeli offensive has killed more than 30,000 Palestinians, driven most of the population from their homes and pushed hundreds of thousands to the brink of famine.
Israel launched the campaign in response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, in which Palestinian militants killed around 1,200 people in Israel and took around 250 hostage. The United States, Israel’s top ally, has provided crucial military and diplomatic support while pushing for more aid for civilians.
“Ramadan has typically been a time when I’ve turned away from the outside world and focused on my connection with God,” Uddin said. “But this year, turning off is not an option for me. I need to continue my activism so those who have no voice can be heard.”
Zulfat Suara, a Nigerian American and the first Muslim to serve on the metro council in Nashville, Tennessee, said that Gaza is “at the very top” of her list of prayers.
“That is the whole point of Ramadan — just that weight. That is the whole reason we fast,” Suara said.
She plans to attend the Music City Iftar, an annual community event for Muslims and non-Muslims. She said that interfaith dialogue has broken down barriers and likely helped her get elected.
“Muslims are not strangers anymore. Our customs, our traditions, become part of our society,” she said.
Nashville native Ahmad Ayoub, a 20-year-old Palestinian American, said he is looking forward to Fridays at the city’s Islamic Center and iftars with his family, but the guilt is already creeping in.
“I’ll come home to break my fast and hunger with a full meal, while our aunts, uncles and cousins in Palestine are just forced to continue to starve,” he said. “There will definitely be a sense of guilt in knowing that I have this full meal in front of me.”


Putin states Russian conditions for Ukraine peace talks

Putin states Russian conditions for Ukraine peace talks
Updated 55 min 9 sec ago
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Putin states Russian conditions for Ukraine peace talks

Putin states Russian conditions for Ukraine peace talks
  • Russia peace proposal is not about temporary ceasefire, but for completely ending the conflict
  • Putin says West’s ‘theft’ of Russia’s assets will not go unpunished

MOSCOW: President Vladimir Putin said on Friday that Russia would cease fire and enter peace talks if Ukraine dropped its NATO ambitions and withdrew its forces from four Ukrainian regions claimed by Moscow.
Putin said Russia was ready to guarantee the safe withdrawal of Ukrainian units in order to enable this to happen.
He was speaking on the eve of a summit in Switzerland where more than 90 countries and organizations are due to discuss a possible path toward peace in Ukraine. Russia has not been invited and says the gathering is a waste of time.
Russia controls nearly a fifth of Ukrainian territory in the third year of the war, and Ukraine says peace can only be based on a full withdrawal of Russian forces and the restoration of its territorial integrity.

President Vladimir Putin also said  that the West’s seizure of Russian sovereign assets was theft and would not go unpunished.
Putin, speaking at a meeting with Foreign Ministry officials, said the way the West had treated Moscow showed that “anyone” could be next and fall victim to a similar Western asset freeze.
Putin spoke a day after the leaders of the Group of Seven major democracies agreed on an outline deal to provide $50 billion of loans for Ukraine using interest from Russian sovereign assets frozen after Moscow sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine in 2022 in what it called a special military operation.


Greece migrant boat disaster relatives demand answers, one year on

Greece migrant boat disaster relatives demand answers, one year on
Updated 14 June 2024
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Greece migrant boat disaster relatives demand answers, one year on

Greece migrant boat disaster relatives demand answers, one year on
  • Up to 700 migrants from Pakistan, Syria and Egypt were crammed in Libya into a fishing trawler bound for Italy

ATHENS: Demonstrators were due to rally in Athens on Friday to mark the anniversary of a shipwreck that killed hundreds of migrants off Greece and demand answers about the causes of the disaster and the fate of relatives.
Up to 700 migrants from Pakistan, Syria and Egypt were crammed in Libya into a fishing trawler bound for Italy. It capsized off southwestern Greece on June 14, 2023, even though the Greek coast guard had been monitoring it for hours.
Some 104 survivors were rescued but only 82 bodies were recovered. The catastrophe, one of the worst Mediterranean boat disasters on record, raised searching questions about how the European Union is trying to stem flows of migrants.
“I wake up to nightmares. Even now, I swear by God, my body still hurts,” said one Egyptian survivor called Mohamed. “We, thanks to God, are alive ... Where are the rest of the bodies?“
Survivors and activists were planning rallies in Athens, London, Paris and Berlin. In the Pakistani city of Lalamousa, victims’ relatives prepared a memorial ceremony.
Survivors say the coast guard caused the ship to capsize when it tried to tow the vessel in the early hours of the morning. Authorities say the movement of migrants on board tipped the overcrowded boat over.
A year on, a probe by a naval court into the coast guard’s role is still at a preliminary stage, frustrating survivors, relatives and rights groups. Greece’s shipping minister has called for patience.
Pantelis Themelis, commander of Greece’s Disaster Victim Identification unit, said 74 of the 82 dead had been identified. But many more families from Africa, the Middle East and Asia have sent DNA samples to Greece for checks to no avail.
Hasan Ali, an Athens resident from Pakistan, said his brother Fahad was among the missing, and their parents back in Pakistan would not accept that he could be dead.
“My mother and father are waiting for him,” Ali said. “They say he’s alive, that he’s in Greece.”


Indian relatives grieve as bodies of 45 Kuwait fire victims return

Indian relatives grieve as bodies of 45 Kuwait fire victims return
Updated 14 June 2024
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Indian relatives grieve as bodies of 45 Kuwait fire victims return

Indian relatives grieve as bodies of 45 Kuwait fire victims return
  • Wednesday’s dawn blaze quickly engulfed a housing block home to some of the many foreign laborers servicing the oil-rich gulf state’s economy
  • Most of Kuwait’s 4 million population is made up of foreigners, many from South and Southeast Asia working in construction and service industries

KOCHI: Grieving families kept a solemn vigil in the terminal of an Indian airport Friday as the bodies of dozens of migrant workers killed in a Kuwait building fire returned home.
Wednesday’s dawn blaze quickly engulfed a housing block home to some of the many foreign laborers servicing the oil-rich gulf state’s economy.
Fifty people died in the resulting inferno, 45 of them Indians, with dozens more hospitalized and anguished relatives back home frantically chasing news of whether their loved ones had perished.
“We held on to hope till the last minute that maybe he got out, maybe he’s in the hospital,” Anu Aby, the neighbor of 31-year-old victim Cibin Abraham, told AFP.
Aby said that Abraham had been due to return to his home in Kerala state in August for his child’s first birthday.
Abraham had been on the phone to his wife just an hour before the fire began, he added.
Others sat in a waiting area at Kochi airport in India’s south, wiping away tears as the Indian Air Force plane carrying the remains of their relatives touched down.
Most of oil-rich Kuwait’s population of more than four million is made up of foreigners.
Many of them are from South and Southeast Asia working in construction and service industries, and living in overcrowded housing blocks like the one that went up in flames on Wednesday.
Nearly 200 people were living in the building and many of the dead and injured suffocated from smoke inhalation after being trapped by the flames, according to a fire department source.
The bodies of many of the dead were charred beyond recognition and needed to be formally identified through DNA testing before they were repatriated.
One Kuwaiti and two foreign residents have been detained on suspicion of manslaughter through negligence of security procedures and fire regulations, authorities in the Gulf state said Thursday.
On Wednesday, Interior Minister Sheikh Fahd Al-Yousef vowed to address “labor overcrowding and neglect,” and threatened to close any buildings that flout safety rules.
Three Filipinos were also among the dead, with the country’s migrant workers secretary Hans Leo J. Cacdac saying authorities in Manila were in touch with next of kin.
The blaze was one of the worst seen in Kuwait, which borders Iraq and Saudi Arabia and sits on about seven percent of the world’s known oil reserves.
In 2009, 57 people died when a Kuwaiti woman, apparently seeking revenge, set fire to a tent at a wedding party when her husband married a second wife.


Indian relatives grieve as bodies of 45 Kuwait fire victims return

Indian relatives grieve as bodies of 45 Kuwait fire victims return
Updated 11 min 10 sec ago
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Indian relatives grieve as bodies of 45 Kuwait fire victims return

Indian relatives grieve as bodies of 45 Kuwait fire victims return
  • Wednesday’s dawn blaze quickly engulfed a housing block home to some of the many foreign laborers servicing the oil-rich gulf state’s economy

KOCHI: Grieving families kept a solemn vigil in the terminal of an Indian airport Friday as the bodies of dozens of migrant workers killed in a Kuwait building fire returned home.
Wednesday’s dawn blaze quickly engulfed a housing block home to some of the many foreign laborers servicing the oil-rich gulf state’s economy.
Fifty people died in the resulting inferno, 45 of them Indians, with dozens more hospitalized and anguished relatives back home frantically chasing news of whether their loved ones had perished.
“We held on to hope till the last minute that maybe he got out, maybe he’s in the hospital,” Anu Aby, the neighbor of 31-year-old victim Cibin Abraham, told AFP.
Aby said that Abraham had been due to return to his home in Kerala state in August for his child’s first birthday.
Abraham had been on the phone to his wife just an hour before the fire began, he added.
Others sat in a waiting area at Kochi airport in India’s south, wiping away tears as the Indian Air Force plane carrying the remains of their relatives touched down.
Most of oil-rich Kuwait’s population of more than four million is made up of foreigners.
Many of them are from South and Southeast Asia working in construction and service industries, and living in overcrowded housing blocks like the one that went up in flames on Wednesday.
Nearly 200 people were living in the building and many of the dead and injured suffocated from smoke inhalation after being trapped by the flames, according to a fire department source.
The bodies of many of the dead were charred beyond recognition and needed to be formally identified through DNA testing before they were repatriated.
One Kuwaiti and two foreign residents have been detained on suspicion of manslaughter through negligence of security procedures and fire regulations, authorities in the Gulf state said Thursday.
On Wednesday, Interior Minister Sheikh Fahd Al-Yousef vowed to address “labor overcrowding and neglect,” and threatened to close any buildings that flout safety rules.
Three Filipinos were also among the dead, with the country’s migrant workers secretary Hans Leo J. Cacdac saying authorities in Manila were in touch with next of kin.
The blaze was one of the worst seen in Kuwait, which borders Iraq and Saudi Arabia and sits on about seven percent of the world’s known oil reserves.
In 2009, 57 people died when a Kuwaiti woman, apparently seeking revenge, set fire to a tent at a wedding party when her husband married a second wife.


Sea swamps Bangladesh at one of world’s fastest rates

Sea swamps Bangladesh at one of world’s fastest rates
Updated 14 June 2024
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Sea swamps Bangladesh at one of world’s fastest rates

Sea swamps Bangladesh at one of world’s fastest rates
  • The three-part study calculated the low-lying South Asian nation was experiencing a sea level rise in places more than 60 percent higher than the global average

PATUAKHALI: After cyclone gales tore down his home in 2007, Bangladeshi fisherman Abdul Aziz packed up what was left of his belongings and moved about half a kilometer inland, further away from storm surge waves.
A year later, the sea swallowed the area where his old home had been.
Now, 75-year-old Aziz fishes above his submerged former home and lives on the other side of a low earth and concrete embankment, against which roaring waves crash.
“The fish are swimming there in the water on my land,” he told AFP, pointing toward his vanished village. “It is part of the advancing ocean.”
Government scientists say rising seas driven by climate change are drowning Bangladesh’s densely populated coast at one of the fastest global rates, and at least a million people on the coast will be forced to relocate within a generation.
“Few countries experience the far-reaching and diverse effects of climate change as intensely as Bangladesh,” Abdul Hamid, director general of the environment department, wrote in a report last month.
The three-part study calculated the low-lying South Asian nation was experiencing a sea level rise in places more than 60 percent higher than the global average.
By 2050, at present rates of local sea level rise, “more than one million people may have to be displaced,” it read, based on a quarter of a century of satellite data from the US space agency NASA and its Chinese counterpart CNSA.
Sea levels are not rising at the same rate around the world, due chiefly to Earth’s uneven gravity field and variations in ocean dynamics.
Study lead A.K.M Saiful Islam said Bangladesh’s above-average increases were driven by melting ice caps, water volumes increasing as oceans warm, and the vast amounts of river water that flow into the Bay of Bengal every monsoon.
The study provides “a clear message” that policymakers should be prepared for “mitigation and adaptation,” he said.
Islam, a member of the UN’s IPCC climate change assessment body, examined the vast deltas where the mighty Himalayan rivers of the Ganges and Brahmaputra reach the sea.
“In recent decades, the sea level rose 3.7 millimeters (0.14 inches) each year globally,” Islam added.
“In our study, we saw that the sea level rise is higher along our coast... 4.2 millimeters to 5.8 millimeters annually.”
That incremental rise might sound tiny. But those among the estimated 20 million people living along Bangladesh’s coast say the destruction comes in terrifying waves.
“It is closing in,” said fisherman Aziz about the approaching sea. “Where else can we escape?“
The threat is increasing.
Most of the country’s coastal areas are a meter or two above sea level, and storms bring seawater further inland, turning wells and lakes salty and killing crops on once fertile land.
“When the surge is higher, the seawater intrudes into our houses and land,” said Ismail Howladar, a 65-year-old farmer growing chilli peppers, sweet potatoes, sunflowers and rice.
“It brings only loss for us.”
Cyclones — which have killed hundreds of thousands of people in Bangladesh in recent decades — are becoming more frequent as well as growing in intensity and duration due to the impact of climate change, scientists say.
Shahjalal Mia, a 63-year-old restaurant owner, said he watches the sea “grasp more land” each year.
“Many people have lost their homes to the sea already,” he said. “If there is no beach, there won’t be any tourists.”
He said he had experienced cyclones and searing heatwaves grow worse, with temperatures soaring above 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit).
“We are facing two, three, even four cyclones every year now,” he said.
“And I can’t measure temperatures in degrees but, simply put, our bodies can’t endure this.”
Bangladesh is among the countries ranked most vulnerable to disasters and climate change, according to the Global Climate Risk Index.
In April, the nation of around 170 million people experienced the hottest month, and the most sustained heatwave temperatures, in its history.
Last month, a cyclone that killed at least 17 people and destroyed 35,000 homes, was one of the quickest-forming and longest-lasting seen, the government’s meteorological department said.
Both events were pinned on rising global temperatures.
Ainun Nishat, from Brac University in the capital Dhaka, said that the poorest were paying the price for carbon emissions from wealthier nations.
“We cannot do anything for Bangladesh if other nations, notably rich countries, do not do anything to fight emissions,” he said.
Bangladesh is running out of time, Nishat added.
“It is becoming too late to prevent disasters,” he said. “We are unequipped to bring change.”