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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

US man guilty of aiding Somali militants

A Chicago man pleaded guilty Monday to attempting to provide support to a designated terrorist organization by traveling to Somalia to join the Shebab, prosecutors said.

Shaker Masri, 28, was born in Alabama and lived in Chicago's upscale Gold Coast neighborhood prior to his 2010 arrest, hours before he was scheduled to travel to Somalia.

He is one of dozens of US citizens arrested in recent years for trying to participate in or support the two-decade long civil war.

He admitted to plotting for months to raise the funds he needed to engage in jihad in either Somalia or Afghanistan.

He was captured after drawing an FBI informant into his plans.

Masri's plea agreement calls for a sentence of just under 10 years in prison. He faced a maximum of 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

London 2012: Islamic Olympians embrace Ramadan fasting despite UK's long summer days making it a gruelling ordeal

By Jerome Taylor Author Biography

More than 3,000 Muslim sporting stars are expected to fast from sunrise until sunset.

Somalian athletes Zamzam Mohamed Farah and Mohamed Mohamed. Mohamed Mohamed said, “As an athlete it can get difficult, but I am ready to fast and train and to get through this difficult month.”
For the thousands of athletes hoping to win medals at this summer’s Games, nutrition is of paramount importance.
Competitors are renowned for painstakingly watching every calorie, counting each ounce of protein, as they strive for physical perfection at what is the most important time of their lives.

So spare a thought for the more than 3,000 Muslim sporting stars who are competing in the midst of Ramadan, the holy month where all adherents to Islam are expected to fast from sunrise until sunset.

The timing of London 2012, the first Olympics to coincide with Ramadan since 1980, caused so much concern within some Muslim sporting bodies that they asked the International Olympic Committee to consider moving it. One of their key concerns was the length of the daily fast that would have to be done in Britain where the daylight hours in summer are from 5am to 9pm – a gruelling ordeal for those who live closer to the Equator.

The request was declined but organisers have gone to great lengths to try and make sure Muslim athletes are catered for. The canteens at all the sporting venues are open 24 hours a day so athletes can fill up on halal food once the sun goes down.

For Ahmed Habash, Egypt’s first ever Olympic sailor, the fast in Britain is a considerably longer one than he is used to. “In Egypt sunset is at 19:00 and here in England it is 21:00,” he said. “During the actual races I am not going to fast by using the license. It does mean when I return home I’ll have to re-fast, but only for the five days I miss.”

But others relish Ramadan. “It’s a blessing month,” said Mohamed Mohamed, Somalia’s 1500m runner. “I have been waiting for this month for the past 11 months, it’s a month we are very happy to welcome. As an athlete it can get difficult, but I am ready to fast and train and to get through this difficult month.”

Most athletes have been helped by the fact that their religious leaders have allowed them to avoid fasting using various religious get-out clauses. Islamic law is often flexible. Traditionally the ill, pregnant women, travellers and those who would have their only source of income affected can fast at another time or pay money to charity instead.

There is no central religious authority in Islam so each country makes their own decision. Nonetheless Egypt, the UAE, Algeria, Morocco, Malaysia – and even highly conservative Saudi Arabia – have all allowed their athletes to put off fasting.

Yunus Dhudwala is an imam who normally works as chaplain in Newham hospital. Over the next two weeks he is one of the specially designated imams in the athlete’s village. “Most of the athletes I’ve met are either delaying fasting for a later date. But some are fasting on all the days except on the day they have to compete.”

Nonetheless there are those who still chose to go ahead with depriving themselves of food throughout the Games. Many of Morocco’s football team have insisted on fasting even though their muftis have given them permission not to. At their first game against Japan over the weekend they lost 1-0 and were forced to defend themselves against the suggestion that Ramadan might be to blame.

Moroccan forward Noureddin Amrabat was substituted after 70 minutes. “Ramadan has little effect,” he insisted. “I have less power. It’s my religion and for me the only way is that you do Ramadan. It’s not an excuse to play a match. I have my religion and I do 30 days Ramadan”.

The team’s Dutch coach Pim Verbeek added: “Of course [Ramadan’s] difficult. Physically they cannot be 100% fit, but mentally they have to be a little bit better than they are.”

Many of the scientific studies commissioned to look into the effects of fasting and sport have found little evidence to suggest it has a detrimental impact on performance.

“People often assume it will affect an athlete’s performance but it’s not as simple as that,” says Professor Ron Maughan, an expert of sporting nutrition who has studied  fasting. “Many athletes say they actually play better when they fast, they feel more focused, more in tune with their bodies.”

Somali 400m runner Zamzam Moahmed Farah would agree. “Ramadan is something we have to perform,” she said. “I’m just as fast and I will run and I don’t think it will affect me as an athlete.”

Source: The Indepedent

Monday, July 30, 2012

Controversial Ramadan series wows audiences (Big-budget Ramadan TV series Omar)

By Ahmed Aboul Enein

Big-budget Ramadan TV series Omar

The big-budget drama Omar, jointly produced by MBC and Qatar TV, depicts the life of the titular Omar ibn Al-Khattab, the second and most powerful of the Rushidun caliphs and one of the most important figures in early Islamic history. It is written by Palestinian poet and scriptwriter Waleed Seif and directed by Syrian director Hatem Ali. Both men are known for making historical dramas and movies, but this one takes the cake.

Normally I tend to avoid Ramadan television dramas (mosalsalat). Overused themes, bad acting and weak plots are not my cup of tea and I am not a big television buff in general. Yet I find myself obsessively refreshing Saudi-owned TV channel MBC’s webpage every day so I may catch the latest episode of Omar.

The show takes the bold step of having actors depicting Omar and other sahabah (friends and companions of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad), which several clerics deem forbidden. As a result, it is banned in many Arab countries, including all Egyptian television channels.

The acting is superb, with the cast being composed of mainly Syrians, some Egyptians and other Arab actors, all relatively unknown or at least not high profile. Maher Ismail, who plays Omar, does a great job in the first seven episodes of balancing the character’s noble qualities with the fact that he is an enemy of Prophet Muhammad and bent on destroying Islam.

The show’s big budget is apparent from the offset as the Game of Thrones-esque opening credits start, showing a graphically rendered map of the Middle East before zooming in on scenes of very well made sets of Mecca and Egypt.

In the show, the Ka’aba is depicted exactly the way it is described in hadiths from the time, complete with a black sheet that does not fully cover it. The idols surrounding it correspond well with their descriptions in sources on pre-Islamic religion and Arab mythology. The chief god, Hubal, in particular is done very well and comes with his reported fitted gold arm.

It is too early in the series to properly judge, but from what I have seen in the opening credits, the battle scenes promise to be a thing unmatched by any Arab production so far.

There are two things that for me make the script this show’s best asset, though. First, the dialogue is impeccable. The Arabic the actors are using is beyond modern day fus’ha and is the closest thing to Classical Arabic I have heard, almost Qur’anic.

The attention to the minutest of historical details is the second. It is reported that Omar was left-handed, or at least ambidextrous, and while the show makes no mention of this, Ismail is always holding his staff with his left hand, unlike the remainder of the cast.

The show includes all the clans and sub-clans of the Quraysh tribe that most of the main characters belong to, introduced in a casual, non didactic method that still manages to be informative.

The script was reviewed by dozens of Islamic scholars and historians as the opening credits are sure to remind viewers by listing them, ensuring the most accurate retelling of Omar’s story possible.

It deals with depicting Prophet Muhammad in a much more realistic way than the traditional bright orb of light in the Islamic movies of yesteryear. Instead, the director relies on a mix of off-camera encounters and camera angles from either Prophet Muhammad’s perspective or situated in a way where he is not in the frame. You can tell what the Prophet has been saying through other character’s responses, rather than the traditional and awkwardly placed narrator.

Seeing as it deals with a story most of its viewers will already be familiar with, the series is more focused on details and the plot moves in a slower pace. Omar converts to Islam in the seventh episode and by the ninth the Muslims are yet to emigrate to Yathrib (later Al-Medina) even though the show is meant to depict Omar’s entire life, including his life under Prophet Muhammad and Abu Bakr’s rule, as well as his own time as caliph.

It is refreshing to see an Arab-produced historical (for I feel it is more historical than religious) work of such high quality. It combines good acting, a high-end production (tens of millions of dollars were reportedly spent on it) and brilliant writing. The controversy surrounding it is also sure to boost its viewership, be it on TV or online for those in countries where the series has been banned.

Source: The Daily News Egypt

Ramadan Without a Lantern

By Hamdy El-Gazzar

Ramadan lanterns in Giza.
Ramadan lanterns in Giza. Photo: Kodak Agfa. Creative Commons.

A day or two before the start of Ramadan, my mother would take me by the hand and walk me over to ’am Metwali’s shop, a small street-corner stand filled with every shape and size of beautiful Ramadan lanterns, which he made by hand from brightly colored glass and aluminum. When I’d open the little door of a lantern, I would find a candle holder in the base and it pleased me. I’d ask for the the biggest one, and my mother would buy it and a box of colored candles for me.

Every night after evening prayers, I’d light a candle, place it inside the lantern, and leave the house to stroll around our neighborhood. There I would join other children, some that I knew and others that I met on those nights, and we would sing Ramadan chants like “Wahawee ya Wahawee” and “Ramadan is upon us.”

In the company of the lanterns and the children, Ramadan nights were filled with pleasure and excitement, a contrast to the hardship of daytime fasting.

My mother used to say: “He who does not fast, does not break fast with us.”

Fasting was boring in our household. The adults would sleep all day and wake a few short hours before sunset. On the other hand, with the call to afternoon prayer I would head to the mosque to pray, memorize verses of the Qur’an, and learn the rules of reciting and reading the Holy text. The elderly sheikh who taught me had a crisp voice and my small heart would shake with the freshness of each verse. The sheikh would also choose the shortest, most beautiful chapters so I could memorize them quickly and advance ahead of my colleagues in recitation.

But the true beauty of Ramadan shines at night, after the evening prayers. There was beauty in the company of my friends on our strolls, beauty in the lanterns, the chants, and the late nights out. We would walk behind the mesaharaty and return home moments before dawn.

For me Ramadan meant lanterns, friends, a cannon, and the late night meal of Suhoor.

When I had a son, I wanted to pass my love of the Ramadan lanterns on to him. I took him by the hand to a small bazaar that still displayed the old-fashioned lanterns, and showed him a variety of options. He seemed confused for a while, his eyes shifting from the lantern to my face and back, before he dragged me towards a well-lit boutique across the street.

At this boutique all the lanterns were plastic and made in China. His face lit up when he saw one that looked like Aladdin’s lamp, and held it tightly to his chest: “Baba, I’m buying this one,” he announced.

This father is clearly nothing like his son. This son is nothing like his father.

Times have no doubt changed over the years, but I still want my son to value what we make with our hands, what the mind crafts with its creativity and imagination. I want him to appreciate art and be more impressed by hand-crafted things than by what machines can produce.

Still, I bought my son his beloved made in China plastic lantern. But I also bought an old fashioned aluminum lamp like the one I played with over thirty years ago. My son asked, “Who’s that one for?”

I said, “It’s for me”

He laughed, shook his head, and said, “I’m sorry Baba, you are a bit too old for those lanterns, but you know what? I won’t let you down. I’ll take it too.”

Translation: Nour Abdelghani


Source: www.samsoniaway.org

The Ramadan Olympics and Islam's "Law of Necessity"








By Mark Durie
Because Islam's "Law of Necessity" fully permits Muslims to find creative ways to adapt when Sharia Law conflicts with practical life, the argument that societies are obliged to make concessions to privilege all the demands of strict Sharia Law is considerably weakened.
Islam is a flexible religion: religious obligations allow exceptions, subject to circumstances. Muslim religious scholars balance countervailing obligations to determine when exceptions apply. Understanding such balancing of necessities in Islam is not only important for public policy, but also for understanding how an identical set of religious beliefs can be used to justify war or peace, terrorism or peaceful coexistence.

 

Fasting During a Ramadan Olympics


As the London Olympics are underway, London organizers of the Olympics, according to a report in the New York Times, are supporting the needs of Muslims athletes, "with more than 150 Muslim clerics on hand to assist athletes, as well as fast-breaking packs including dates and other traditional foods."

As it is also the month of Ramadan, during which Muslims are obligated not to eat or drink, even their own saliva, from sunrise to sunset, spare a thought for the more than 3,500 Muslim competitors, who, if they strictly observed Ramadan, would be abstaining from food and drink from the first prayer of the day (Fajr) at 2.44 am through to the dusk prayer (Maghrib) at 8.53 pm (as at July 29, 2012, see Islamicfinder.org).

Optimum sporting performance cannot be expected from athletes who go without food or drink for over 18 hours -- a circumstance which would not be fair to them.

Many Muslim Olympians now in London will therefore not be fasting. Some may rely on religious rulings (fatwas) which exempt sportspeople from the Ramadan fast, such as a ruling issued in 2010 by the German Central Council of Muslims, that Muslim professional footballers, because they depend upon football for their living, need not fast during Ramadan.

The United Emirates, using a different approach stated that players may omit the fast as long as they do not stay in one place for more than four days. This is based upon a standard exemption for travelers during Ramadan (Sahih Bukhari, 3:31:167). Another exemption, following advice from imams in Morocco, is being used by English Olympic rower Moe Sbihi, who announced that he will donate 60 meals to poor people in Morocco for each missed fast day. Many Olympic athletes are postponing their fasts until their sporting commitments are completed. However, the Moroccan football team are fasting and trusting that Allah will help them to victory. All Muslims agree that fasting is obligatory during Ramadan; they differ in the exceptions they make.

 

"Necessity": Balancing What Is Forbidden with What Is Permitted


There is a powerful principle in Islamic jurisprudence, the "Law of Necessity," that permits what is forbidden -- the end justifying the means. If a goal is obligatory, then the means can also be obligatory, even if otherwise they might be forbidden.

In Islam the universe of possible human deeds is divided into what is obligatory, permitted neutral, disliked, or forbidden. Then there is the need to balance the pros and cons of every act. This is a world of choice which can embrace a necessary evil, or take a pass on a good deed for the sake of a greater good.

Some "Law of Necessity" exceptions go back to Muhammad; they are hard-wired into Islamic law. A case in point is the exemption for travelers during Ramadan, which some athletes rely on. Another exemption for travelers, which also comes straight from Muhammad, allows Muslims to catch up on prayer times later than the correct hour.

Life raises many complex challenges, and the balancing of obligations and prohibitions may require more subtle reasoning, dependent on context. The renowned medieval Muslim scholar al-Ghazali explained how the principle of balancing necessities can be used to make lying permitted or even compulsory, according to the circumstances:
"Speaking is a means to achieve objectives. If a praiseworthy aim is attainable through both telling the truth and lying, it is unlawful to accomplish it through lying because there is no need for it. When it is possible to achieve such an aim by lying but not by telling the truth, it is permissible to lie if attaining the goal is permissible … and obligatory to lie if the goal is obligatory . …" (The Reliance of the Traveller, p.745-46, paragraph r8.2)
Yusuf al-Qaradawy has written extensively about the jurisprudence of "balancing necessities." He explains that interests and pros and cons of any deed must be balanced, one against each other and weighed carefully.

Al-Qaradawy's focus was politics, not sport. He cited an example of the support given by the Islamist political leader Maulana Maududi to Fatima Jinnah in the 1965 presidential elections in Pakistan. Previously Maududi had declared that it was not permissible in Islam for a woman to govern (based on the teachings of Muhammad). He came, however, to regard Jinnah as the lesser of two evils, so he commanded his followers to vote for the female candidate, and against General Ayub Khan.

Understanding such balancing of necessities in Islam is important for public policy -- to grasp how an identical set of religious beliefs can be used to justify war or peace, terrorism or peaceful coexistence -- or any other decision, based solely on the circumstances at the time.

 

Balancing Necessities and Public Policy


Consider the issue of the timing of the Olympics: Was Juan Cole correct to suggest that the Olympic Games should be rescheduled so they did not fall in Ramadan?

The fact that the "Law of Necessity" allows Muslims to get around restrictions suggests that although it might certainly have been thoughtful or considerate, it would not in any way necessary to reschedule the Olympics for the sake of Muslim religious sensitivities.

The possibility of balancing necessities needs to be taken into account when organizations and governments are faced with demands that they make concessions for the sake of complying with Islamic Sharia Law. Because the Islamic "Law of Necessity" fully permits Muslims to find creative ways to adapt when Sharia law conflicts with practical life, the argument that societies are obliged to make concessions to privilege all the strict demands of Sharia Law is considerably weakened.

Non-Muslims in particular need to take balancing necessities into account. Consider Sheikh Ahmed al-Mahlawi of Egypt who accepts that it is not a sin for Muslim religious scholars to see women in the streets with unveiled faces: the need for Muslim scholars to get around in public places outweighs the prohibition against men seeing women's unveiled faces. He boasted, all the same, that he had compelled a US consular official to wear the hijab [headscarf] when she met with him. If the U.S. official had been better informed, she might have asked that Sheikh al-Mahlawi take a more moderate, balanced approach. She might have refused to submit to the hijab, pointing out that the Sheikh copes very well with looking at the unveiled faces of women whenever he goes into the street.

 

Balancing Necessity and Terrorism


Al-Qaradawi concluded that although it is wrong in general for Muslims to participate in non-Islamic governments or to make alliances with non-Muslim nations, compromises may be made when such lesser evils are 'balanced' against the greater good of the Muslim cause.

He also made the observation that many of the conflicts between different factions working for the success of Islam exist because of different interpretations about how to "balance" the different necessities and interests in Islam. Of course, Muslims who agree on their fundamental principles of faith can have very different views on how to balance these beliefs in any given situation.

Jihadi [holy war] martyrs make use of theological balancing necessities when they justify their methods for killing enemies. In Islam, for example, it is forbidden to kill oneself, but suicide, if it can be justified in the cause of Allah or furthering Islam, is not only permissible but heroic. Jihadi clerics are more than willing to write fatwas which ensure that a would-be martyr goes to his death with a clear conscience.In Islam, it is forbidden to kill women and children, but "collateral damage" is acceptable if a greater end is in sight. It is also forbidden in Islam to lie, but it is recommended that a pious jihadi using taqiyya [dissimulation] if necessary to achieve, say, a "martyrdom operation." The Al-Qaeda manual, for instsnce, appeals to the principle that "necessity permits the forbidden" to justify criminal acts; and the Indonesian jihad cleric Abu Bakar Bashir argued that jihadis were entitled to hack foreigner's bank accounts to obtain funds (see The Crime-Terror Nexus, New York State Office of Homeland Security). (For a bizarre example of the extremes to which jihad fatwas can go, see this report by Raymond Ibrahim.)

The ramifications can be momentous for Muslims and non-Muslims alike: consider the difference in opinion between the Saudi leaders and Usama Bin Ladin concerning the presence of American soldiers in the Kingdom after the invasion of Kuwait. Bin Ladin opposed this infidel 'occupation'. In his 1996 fatwa declaring war on America he counted the presence of US soldiers as "one of the worst catastrophes to befall the Muslims" since the death of Muhammad.

Saudia Arabia's Grand Mufti and supreme religious authority Sheikh Ibn Baz, however, allowed American troops into Saudi Arabia, although in another fatwa he had stated that Christian servants could not be employed in Arabia:
"It is not allowed to have a non-Muslim maid. It is not allowed to have a non-Muslim male or a non-Muslim female servant, or a worker who is a non-Muslim for anyone living in the Arabian peninsula. This is because the Prophet Muhammad ordered the Jews and Christians to be expelled from that land. He ordered that only Muslims should be left there. He decreed upon his death that all polytheists must be expelled from this Peninsula. (Islamic Fatawa Regarding Women, p. 36 compiled by Abdul Malik Mujahid).
Both Usama Bin Ladin and the Saudi authorities agreed on the principle that infidels could not be permitted to live in Saudi Arabia. What they disagreed on was how to balance this against other requirements, such as the need to safeguard the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. This difference was enough to trigger Bin Ladin's war on America.

What distinguishes a jihadi terrorist from a more peaceful Muslim, therefore, may not be any fundamental difference in belief, but, as in the West, merely in a given instance, how the religious legal principles of his faith should be applied.

Mark Durie is an Anglican vicar in Melbourne, Australia, and an Associate Fellow at the Middle Eastern Forum.

Minnesota Sheriff Reports to Congress on Growing Somalia Gang Threat in Hennepin County

 
 
Rich Stanek, sheriff of Hennepin County Minnesota, testified at a House hearing on July 25, 2012 about the growing threat of Somali gangs in his state. (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)
 
The sheriff of Hennepin County, Minn., told the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security on Wednesday about the threat of Somali gangs in his jurisdiction.

“I have been asked to testify today about the specific emergence of Somali gang-related issues we are having in my county,” Rich Stanek said in his prepared testimony.

Stanek represented the National Sheriffs’ Association at the hearing on “America’s Evolving Gang Threat.” He also serves on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s inter-agency Threat Assessment and Coordination Group and is president of the Major County Sheriffs’ Association.

Stanek said Minnesota is a “designated U.S. Refugee Resettlement Area,” with a Somali population ranging from 80,000 to 125,000 in the state. As a result, Stanek said, while the African population in the U.S. as a whole is about four percent, 18 percent of the Minnesota population is African because of the large Somali presence.

Stanek said he wanted to “state for the record” that most Somalis are “law-abiding citizens” who contribute to the community, but those who have joined gangs are committing crimes across the state.

“Somali gangs are unique in that they are not necessarily based on the narcotics trade as are other traditional gangs,” Stanek said, adding that “turf” is also not a motivating factor in Somali gang criminal activities.

“Gang members will often congregate in certain areas, but commit their criminal acts elsewhere,” Stanek said. “Criminal acts are often done in a wide geographic area that stretches outside of the Twin Cities seven county metro area.      
     
“Their mobility has made them difficult to track,” Stanek said.

Stanek listed five “typical crimes” committed by Somali gang members, including credit card fraud, cell phone and gun store burglaries, and witness intimidation. The fifth type of criminal activity is tied to international terrorism, Stanek said.

“In 2007, the local Somali community started to report that some of the youth in the area had essentially disappeared without warning,” Stanek said. “It was later learned that 20 young men had left Minneapolis to travel to Somalia to receive training and fight as members of al- Shabaab.

“One individual had moved to Minneapolis as a teenager in 1993,” Stanek said. Following a shoplifting arrest, he fell into the violent street gang called the ‘Somali Hot Boyz.’ After a short period of time, he emerged as a recruiter for al-Shabaab, which eventually led him to leave Minneapolis for the Horn of Africa in 2008.

“Later, it was learned this individual was killed in fighting between al-Shabaab and Somali government forces,” Stanek said.

“We are clearly faced with a challenge that requires an innovative approach including new investigative tools and focused resources,” Stanek said.

According to the Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families’ Office of Refugee and Resettlement, refugee programs and resettlement sites exist in 49 states and the District of Columbia and are operated through partnerships between the federal government and faith-based and other non-governmental refugee support organizations in those states and the District.

A spokesperson for the office told CNSNews.com that the United States admits on average about 70,000 refugees a year, with each required to be designated as individuals who face danger in their homeland. Every refugee has to be cleared by the Department of Homeland Security before being allowed to resettle in the United States, the spokesperson said.

A wide range of considerations about where to relocate individuals is considered, including family ties, language and available resources, the spokesperson said. But once they are living in the United States, refugees are free to live anywhere in the country.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), chairman of the subcommittee, opened the hearing with statistics on the gang threat in the United States.

“According to the 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment there are approximately 1.4 million gang members belonging to more than 33,000 gangs in the United States,” Sensenbrenner said. “It has been reported that the number of gang members in the U.S. has increased by 40 percent since 2009.”
 
Source: CNS News

Somalia: Organic peace is needed


Somali delegates read the book of the constitution during the National Constituent Assembly meeting in Mogadishu. A special assembly is tasked with voting on a new constitution for war-torn Somalia as the corruption-riddled government approaches the end of its mandate next month. (Mohamed Abdiwahab/AFP/Getty Images)
 
This month, the Somali clan elders are convening in Mogadishu for a United Nations-sponsored peace and reconciliation effort to craft a “road map.” Their daunting task: selecting delegates that will try to ratify a new constitution, elect parliament, and form a new government, at the end of the “transition” in mid-August.
  
Although the gathering is encouraging, most Somalis have little or no faith in the US-backed “road map” process designed to lead Somalia into stability. Instead, the meeting is more likely to bolster and legitimize the nominal Somali government while Somalis are ravaged by violence and self-interested neighbors.

Moreover, Somalis resent America’s counter-terrorism strategy of relying heavily on Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda to stabilize Somalia; Somalis see these front-line countries as perpetuating the Somalia quagmire under the guise of fighting terrorism for their own self-interest.

For example, Uganda contributes to the Somali mission and, in return, receives money, training and weapons. Ethiopia and Kenya, which have a large Somali ethnic and Muslim population, have more strategic aspirations. With American support, they want to keep Somalia fragmented because they view a strong Somalia, as a threat to their own national security.

On the other hand, the recent Turkish government efforts to ease the humanitarian disaster won the hearts and the minds of Somalis, especially Mogadishu residents. Turkish aid organizations delivered aid, drilled boreholes for water, built or renovated, schools, clinics, and did some basic infrastructure projects in Mogadishu.

However, the Turkish humanitarian contributions, along with African Union military gains against al-Shabaab, would be like putting a bandage on a gaping wound. Nothing will change in southern Somalia as long as political actors, warlords, and pirate kingpins continue to squabble among themselves over the spoils of foreign aid or factional differences.

By contrast, Somaliland entity, the northern part of Somalia (former British Somaliland) that declared its independence on May 18, 1991, is peaceful and the level of stability is impressive. The local indigenous clans built pluralistic political institutions that are organic. Two presidential polls took place with a peaceful transfer of power, one in 2003 and another in 2010. Despite its achievements, Somaliland’s independence has been not recognized because the United Nations and the US State Department still pretend Somaliland is a part of the failed state of Somalia.

For decades, the international community made more than 16 attempts, including foreign military interventions, to establish a central government in Mogadishu — the ground zero of the failed state of Somalia. None of those interferences achieved success. In fact, America gave up on Somalia after the death of 18 US Rangers in the 1993 “Black Hawk Down” tragedy. After 9/11, everything changed, including America’s decision to limit involvement in Somalia to a narrow focus on counter-terrorism and more recently, combating piracy.

Somali clans are not religion-based. With their nomadic lifestyle and strong clan-based system, they are more interested in controlling scarce resources: grazing land and water, and political power. The majority of Somalis practice moderate forms of Islam; they are not jihadists and they have little interest in the ideology of the militant Islamist group, al-Shabaab.

In addition, Somalia has become the graveyard for massive aid and many untenable UN political initiatives, including the “road map.” In these international efforts, little attention was paid to the most pressing issues for ordinary Somalis: the need for a sustainable and pluralistic political framework that would satisfy all stakeholders, including the Islamists. A more inclusive and organic peace not only has a better chance of success than political fixes imposed from the outside, but might also lead to long-term stability and good governance. 

I have met no Somalis who believe a credible and functioning government would emerge from the “road map,” as it is presently drafted. Most Somalis would view such a new government as a puppet, beholden to foreign governments with its security and survival dependant indefinitely on African troops.

Instead of imposing on Somalis the hopelessly corrupt and incompetent Somali government or its replacement, President Obama should do the right thing: support and recognize the one source of strength, Somaliland. Diplomatic recognition would allow Somaliland to engage the international community, and would offer it increased opportunities for investment, trade and economic growth.

For the rest of the former Republic of Somalia, the best hope seems to be for the international community to support more robust Turkish intervention, including the immensely difficulty mission of fixing Somalia. Somalis view Turkey as a neutral and positive force that could manage the Somali conflict better than the proxy African countries.

Ali Mohamed is co-founder of the Horn of Africa Freedom Foundation, a grass roots organization located in Lewis Center, Ohio, that advocates for the advancement of freedom and democratic values for the indigenous people of the Horn of Africa.

Source: Global Post

Sunday, July 29, 2012

President Obama declares situation in Somalia a "national security threat"

An al-Shabaab fighter in Somalia (armed with Ak-47 assault rifle) fights under the "Black Battle Flag" of al-Qaeda. Al-Shabaab is considered one of the most violent and dangerous terrorist organizations on the world.
 
President Obama sent a letter, dated 20, 2012 to Congress declaring the situation in Somalia poses "an unusual and extraordinary national security threat to the United States."

The President cited "piracy, escalating violence, and the deterioration of the security situation in Somalia" as reasons for his actions.

“I found that that the deterioration of the security situation and the persistence of violence in Somalia, and acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea off the coast of Somalia, which have repeatedly been the subject of United Nations Security Council resolutions, and violations of the arms embargo imposed by the United Nations Security Council in Resolution 733 of January 23, 1992, and elaborated upon and amended by subsequent resolutions, constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States. To address that threat, E.O. 13536 blocks the property and interests in property of persons listed in the Annex to E.O. 13536 or determined by the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State, to meet criteria specified in E.O. 13536.

The letter was delivered to Congress on July 23, 2012 and read into the Congressional Record and referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs.

The President has also amended order 13536 in such a ways as to give the President “designation of persons authority” to go after anyone who engages in what he calls “directly or indirectly threaten the peace, security, or stability of Somalia.”

That means people who "threaten the Transitional Federal Institutions or future Somali governing process."

Examples included: People who obstructed the delivery of humanitarian assistance, stolen from the Somali public assets and who finances or renders financial assistance relating to military activities, training, assistance to a designated terrorist organization, such as al-Shaahab.

The letter seeks to prohibit the importation into the United States, directly or indirectly, of charcoal from Somalia.

Charcoal is a “significant revenue source” for the al-Shabaab terrorist organization in Somalia, according to the President (see also video: Charcoal exports from Somalia banned - Press TV News http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y5ER-nrquo0 ).

The President also seeks authority to cut off all “non local” commerce to al-Shahaab controlled ports (see video: Al-Shabab maintains grip on Somali port city http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h7A5Ujp67lg ).

“In view of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2002 of July 29, 2011, persons who engage in non-local commerce via al- Shabaab-controlled ports that constitutes support for a person whose property and interests in property are blocked pursuant to E.O. 13536 may be subject to designation pursuant to E.O. 13536, as amended by the order. The order was effective at 2:00 p.m. eastern daylight time on July 20, 2012. I have delegated to the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State, the authority to take such actions, including the promulgation of rules and regulations, and to employ all powers granted to the President by IEEPA as may be necessary to carry out the purposes of the order. All agencies of the United States Government are directed to take all appropriate measures within their authority to carry out the provisions of the order. I am enclosing a copy of the Executive Order I have issued, signed on this date, July 20, 2012 Barack Obama, The White House.”

As many people are aware President Obama has been engaged in a ongoing shadow war against al-Shabaab in Somalia for some time now.

In January, the President authorized the successful hostage rescue mission, by U.S. Special Operations soldiers of two foreign aid workers American Jessica Buchanan and Poul Thisted of Denmark, who were being held by 9 armed terrorists in Somalia.

This was thought to be the first major direct military intervention in Somalia by the United States since the 1990's (see video: US forces rescue two hostages in Somalia http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7O2Y2n2tlg ).

Source: The Examiner

Ramadan Reflection Day 9: Racial Profiling

By

I'm about to board a flight to Houston at NYC's LaGuardia Airport. My flight is boarding in about 25 minutes. I checked-in at home and got here about 15 minutes ago.

There used be a time when I took domestic flights that I wasn't allowed to check-in from home and had to plan to be at the airport two hours before a domestic flight. When I would get to the airport, my boarding pass would print with "SSSS" on it, signifying that I was some kind of security threat. When it became my turn in line with the TSA agent checking IDs and boarding passes, a call would be made to a supervisor who would then escort me through the security line, place my belongings in a red bin as opposed to the regular grey one, and once I went through the metal detector, would be escorted to a glass encased box, one side of which was a bar that dropped behind me, I guess in case I tried to run away. The glass panels I guess were so everyone who was about to get on the plane with me could watch what was happening. I'm sure they found that comforting and appreciated it.

Another TSA worker would then come up to me while I was in the box. "Mr. Latif, we are going to do an extended pat-down on you at this time. I will be patting down your entire body with my hands including running a finger through your neckline and waistline. When I get to your more sensitive areas, such as your inner groin and backside, I will use the back of my hands instead of the front of them. Are you comfortable with this?" I would let a out a deep sigh, as in my mind I'm thinking, "Yes, I obviously was hoping to get felt up by a strange man this morning."

After that my belongings were searched through and then I would be told, "Thank you. Enjoy your flight."

There also used to be a time when I took international flights, I would be detained coming into the country.

Whether I was traveling for work, in an official capacity on behalf of the State Department, or for leisure, I was consistently stopped. It got to the the point that I couldn't even get off the plane by myself. Our flight would land on the runway and an announcement would be made to have passports ready as TSA was doing random checks as we disembarked. Essentially I was the random check. When the two TSA agents at the door of the plane came to me and my passport in the line, the one who found me would say to the other, "I've found him," and then the two would escort me to the detaining room for a period of two to six hours at time. The room was full of people from very diverse backgrounds, mostly minorities.

I came to learn that it was best to travel without any electronics, as this prolonged the process. As my belongings were searched through, some of the TSA agents themselves became frustrated after finding my NYPD credentials or my State Department letters. I would be asked, "Why are we stopping you?" and my response would be, "If you don't know why you are stopping me, how am I supposed to know?"

After being stopped for three consecutive weekends straight, I asked one of the TSA workers who now knew me by name why he thought I was being stopped. "You're young. You're male. And you're Muslim. Those three things don't go so well together right now."

I didn't really understand the impact it was having on me until my wife and I traveled together for the first time for our honeymoon. We went to St. Lucia and our entry point back in the United States was through Miami. As we got up to leave the plane, I told her to not get off with me, as I didn't want her to somehow get detained as well. Two of our friends, Shala and Faraz, were going to be meeting us at the airport and Priya would hang out with them while I was being held.

She, of course, insisted on walking with me. We got out of the plane and no one was there to take me away. I assumed that it was because we were in Miami, and my usual entry point to the USA was through NYC when returning from an international visit. We then went through the customs check and I told her it might happen here, but then nothing happened. We then walked through the baggage claim, something I had not done without an escort for almost three years, and as we neared the exit I kept looking over my shoulder to see if someone was coming to stop me. We made it to the public area of the airport and Priya joked with me saying that she's my good luck charm and it's because I married her that I was not stopped. I responded by putting my arms around her, my head on her shoulder, and crying for the next few minutes.

Just because I am a Muslim, does not mean I am a threat. Just because I am Muslim, doesn't justify me being treated differently from anyone else. People every day are facing this reality because of their skin color, country of origin, culture, ethnicity, religious affiliation and many other variables. The emotional anxiety that is felt is not really describable. I've seen women who are pregnant in the detaining rooms and grandmothers in the glass box as their grandchildren watch them go through these experiences. To anyone who has gone through something similar, I'm sorry that you have been treated like that. It's not OK for you to be singled out or for anyone to justify a racist profiling of you and people like you. Be strong and true to who you are. The solution is not to hide yourself, but empower yourself, share your story and ensure that you are doing what you can so that those who come after you won't have to go through something similar.

I'm about to board my plane. The desk attendant just asked for us to have our boarding passes and ID cards ready as TSA is going to do a random search. Let's hope I didn't speak too soon :)

Source: The Huffimgton Post

South African Gangs kill Somali businessman, wounds three

Witnesses said at least one Somali businessman was killed and three others injured by armed South African gangs in Cape Town on Saturday night.

“The Somali trader was killed over night by South African gangs in Cape Town and injured three others as they were continuing their business activities there in South African,” said a businessman who witnessed the incident.

South African Armed groups have been carrying out intimidations, robbery and killings against Somali business community in the past few years and the government of South Africa has not done enough to respond to the problems of Somalis.

Somali immigrants say many have been killed, many were injured and their businesses were looted by the South African gangs.

Source: Mareeg Online

Establishing the Internal Security and Infrastructure in Somalia

OPINION

Since 1977 until present, the Somali people were in the middle of different kinds of wars and violent conflicts.  As usual, violent conflicts originate from human insecurity such as exclusion, lack of access to resources and power. Poverty or lack of alternative economic opportunities, competition for natural resource, and tribal domination are also aspects that exacerbate conflicts in Somalia. On the other hand, lack of good governance, creates lack of respect for the rule of law, social exclusion, and intolerance. All the above factors can be identified as the fundamental causes of the various and prolonged conflicts in Somalia.

Somalia has all parameters that indentify the characteristics of a failed state.  Its human insecurity emerged when social disorder arose within the former government’s systems and expanded to tears apart the government bureaucracy, institutional rules, and lastly it rip apart the normal cohesiveness of the Somali social structures, and their traditional livelihood systems, that survived many generations and preserved the uniqueness of the Somalis and their territory in the horn.  The conflicts in Somalia created mistrust among communities, neighbours; and it built distrust between the affected Somalis and their governments, specially the latest before 1991.  Due to the above-mentioned reasons, along with lack functional governments and administration in the last two decades, caused also Somali people’s exodus influx and migration inside and outside of the country.  As a result, many of these immigrants died before they reached to their destination, and others are in interim refugee camps, waiting to get sponsors to go to the western countries.  Many others are in overseas jails as they are illegal immigrants with no proper documents and visas to show.  Their real figures and locations are mainly unknown.  The most recent statistics of displaced Somalis cited UNHCR in a repost on January 2012 is as below:

Category                                         Total number
Internally Displaced People in Somalia:                            1,356,845
Total population in Somalia who are at risk or of concern:         1,365,183
No. of Refugees outside Somalia (who are seeking asylum)           1,099,806
Total Somali population at risk or of concern                      2,464,989

Although Somalis claim that they are homogeneous people, who speak the same language, and practice the same religion, did not manage to resolve their differences; instead, they immersed themselves into deep devastating, and lethal conflicts, which divided the country in to opposing groups.  Nevertheless, for the last 22 year, many Somali who migrated to the west exposed to live in multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious countries such as Canada.  This teaches us, despite of differences, people can live under the same flag once they have good governance systems, civil society mobilization, and available opportunities for the people to prosper.

Among the Somali presidential candidates of 2012, Dr. Abdurahman M. Abdullahi “Baadiyow” is number one candidate who can stabilize the Somali internal security and can put the pieces together to re-establish Somalia and assist the country to get back on its feet.  Establishing the Internal Security of Somalia, embrace some of the barriers that failed all the previous government (from the last 30 years) failed to surpass.  To break these barriers, it requires commitment, quality leadership, good governance tools, and public support in order to reach long lasting and healthy solutions.  In addition, Somalia requires new vision, and strategies that could maintain government policies effectively implement.  The government should immediately promote acceptable, decent moral/manners, cultural and religious sensitive mechanisms, to alleviate such awkward and evil conditions that the country is facing.

The future government of Somalia must focus on disabling all structures that fuel conflict. It must move beyond functions of maintaining and terminating ongoing military activities, such as ceasefire, demobilization and disarmament.  It should move to implement in sustaining and training of the existing army forces, recruiting new army forces, re-employment and retraining most of the former Somali army men and women, who are willing and able to contribute.  In this process, every Somali citizen must be eligible to participate in the new army, once one did not commit crime against humanity, or against the country.  Through the re-engagement, the old army can enrich the expertise of the new Somali army forces in general; it may help the government to build an effective and efficient Somali military, police and security forces that will safeguard Somalia and its people from internal and external threats.

The government should work on the elimination or reduction of the major factors that contribute to conflict and human insecurity in Somalia.  The realization of these strategies will improve the peace and stability, it will prepare grounds to create conducive environment for future peaceful and transparent election, and will allow conducting a genuine election monitoring process.

Other important issues that future government should also tackle include providing voluntary settlement to the internally displaced people back to their original regions, and ensuring returnee security. Once the government succeeds to stabilize the internal human security of the country in general, therefore, individual security, and respect for basic human rights will concurrently secure. To resolve these issues are essential cornerstones of the political, economic, and social stabilization of Somalia.  Other strategies that can sustain Somalia to recover and that may help the country to reach to its maximum inherent capacity for growth, both in human and economic development are as follows:

Strategies and programs to strengthen the internal security of Somalia should include:
  1. Peace building and reconciliation: the first priority is to restore a sense of peace and security. Creating bodies and organizations responsible for conflict mitigation, prevention, and generate resolutions within the system of the government that guarantees a room for all citizens to participate.
    1. The government should instigate research programs that will assist to understand the nature, origins and impact of current conflicts in Somalia (tribalism, different religious sects, poverty and competition for land and other resources that usually situates in the centre of conflict).   
    2. The government should foster ongoing research on other social, economic and scientific programs essential to the development of the country.
    3. Rehabilitation of child solders, and war-affected people should also be in the human security and stabilization strategic section and priorities.
    4. The government alone cannot assume this huge responsibility, but there should be roles for key stakeholders’ (such as Government, Civil Society, Private Sector and international groups whom voluntarily willing to assist).  These stakeholders should take the lions shares in the reconstruction of Somalia during and after the end of the conflict. The stakeholders should use effectively the valuable experience gained from the Somali internal conflict, and other experiences from different parts of the world, that may be useful to our case.
    5. To develop terms of reference of the above institutions, this will clearly indicate the relationship between the partners, the expected roles and the duration if each tasks in the post-conflict reconstruction efforts.  Each partner/ stakeholder will be involved.

  1. The Government should prepare a countrywide budget and specifically should prepare a component geared to finance the Somali Army salary and re-training.  The government should give especial priority to secure this funding mainly from local sources. 
     Fundraising programs should be established that may come from various  sources:
  • Imposing tariff and taxation to all imported goods and services, special procedures must be dealt with luxurious/ non basic goods and services
  • Taxation (taxation must be enforced as the government need to pay salaries of all government staff and social services programs) (Federal, Regional and local taxation must be conducted).
  • Taxation collected from all points of entries including neigbouring boarders, from seaports, and airports) including telecommunication goods and services.
  • Fundraising from local stakeholders (Somali business people, and other local stakeholders)
  • Fundraising from Somali Diaspora
  • International Community


  1. Different government institutions should re-establish immediately, to provide basic services such as (health services, education, drinkable water, sanitation, shelter, social welfare and other basic and essential programs for the society).
  2. To revitalize all infrastructures, such roads, market channels and transportation services.
  3. To conduct demobilization, integration, employment and income generation programs.
  4. To induce development and economic stimulation strategies.
  5. Provide a price guarantee policies to protect local produce, especially agricultural products.
  6. The Government should implement strategies to encourage local producers get full access to local markets, and explore new markets for products.
  7.   The Government should work on strategies to promote farm –gate prices to stabilize and generate enough profit for the producers to continue producing in order to satisfy local food demands, and improve product quality to meet international market standards
  8. Introduce Agricultural subsidy programs policies; improve food security in quantity and quality. In the meantime, implement agricultural rehabilitation, including land tenure designation, registration and resolve land ownership conflicts.
  9. Develop policies to ban narcotics and unhealthy products from imports or produce locally for consumption
  10. The government should ensure that women’s participation in civil and military institutions (which is 30% in each institution) to be fulfilled.   The government should also ensure to protect women’s rights and all other human rights.
It is necessary that the future government of Somalia should aim that the country reaches to self–sufficient in order to support itself, and only seek foreign assistance when necessary.  Somalia has a lot of natural resource and can support itself when all Somali citizens assume a sense of responsibility with the vision and strategies of a great leader and a president like Dr. Abdurahman M. Abdullahi.  Dr. Badiyow possesses all necessary education, skills, experience, and the qualities to fulfill his presidential duties successfully.

Amina Sharif Hassan
Aminash05@yahoo.ca

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Glossary: Sawm, or Siyam - Ramadan Fasting

Definition: Sawm, or fasting during Ramadan, is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, the five duties required of every practicing Muslim.

Aside from the five-times-daily prayer, fasting during the month of Ramadan is the most visible and recognizable of Muslim acts the world over. During the 30-odd days of Ramadan, Muslims are required to fast during daylight hours, drinks included, and abstain from bodily pleasures like sex or other forms of sensual abandon. The focus is on humility, spiritual oneness with God and social oneness with the umma, or Islamic community, across the globe.

Fasting in Islam has its origins in Judaism, Christianity and the pre-Islamic Arab world. Although Ramadan is when Muslims fast most, they may fast voluntarily the rest of the year, or fast three days a month, or six days during the month of Sawwal, which follows the month of Ramadan, or fast on Mondays and Thursdays. Each of these proscriptions is recognized in Islam.
 
Traditional Muslims may also fast to atone for specific sins, the way Catholics recite rosaries or follow their priest’s instructions to atone. For example, failing to honor an oath or accidentally killing a Muslim may be mitigated by fasting. Sufis, as rigorous in their spiritual exercises as Jesuits, consider fasting part of their religious calisthenics.

In the Quran

 

Chapter 2, Revelation 185 of the Quran states:

The month of Ramadan is that in which was revealed the Quran; a guidance for mankind, and clear proofs of the guidance, and the criterion (of right and wrong). And whosoever of you is present, let him fast the month, and whosoever of you is sick or on a journey, a number of other days. Allah desires for you ease; He desires not hardship for you; and that you should complete the period, and that you should magnify Allah for having guided you, and that perhaps you may be thankful.
Thus, according to the Quran, Prophet Muhammad first received revelations in the lunar month of Ramadan. Therefore, the month of Ramadan is considered to be the most sacred month of the Islamic calendar, the recording of which began with the Hijra.

Beginning of Ramadan


Hilāl (the crescent) is typically a day (or more) after the astronomical new moon. Since the new moon indicates the beginning of the new month, Muslims can usually safely estimate the beginning of Ramadan. However, to many Muslims, this is not in accordance with authenticated Hadiths stating that visual confirmation per region is recommended. The consistent variations of a day have existed since the time of Muhammad.

 

Practices during Ramadan


Fasting

Ramadan is a time of spiritual reflection, improvement and increased devotion and worship. Muslims are expected to put more effort into following the teachings of Islam. The fast (sawm) begins at dawn and ends at sunset. In addition to abstaining from eating and drinking, Muslims also increase restraint, such as abstaining from sexual relations and generally sinful speech and behavior. The act of fasting is said to redirect the heart away from worldly activities, its purpose being to cleanse the soul by freeing it from harmful impurities. Ramadan also teaches Muslims how to better practice self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and empathy for those who are less fortunate; thus encouraging actions of generosity and charity (zakat).

It becomes compulsory for Muslims to start fasting when they reach puberty, so long as they are healthy, sane and have no disabilities or illnesses. Exemptions to fasting are travel, menstruation, illness, older age, pregnancy, and breast-feeding. However, many Muslims with medical conditions insist on fasting to satisfy their spiritual needs, and healthcare professionals must work with their patients to reach common ground. Professionals should closely monitor individuals who decide to persist with fasting.

While fasting is not considered compulsory in childhood, many children endeavour to complete as many fasts as possible as practice for later life. Those who are unable to fast are obliged to make up for it. According to the Quran, those ill or traveling (musaafir) are exempt from obligation, but still must make up the days missed later on.

 

Health effects


Fasting does not pose any medical risks to healthy individuals. In fact, Sarah Amer, MS, RD, CDN, says, “The body has the incredible ability to adapt.” She reveals that it takes her only a few days of fasting to get back to her usual activity level. A team of cardiologists in the UAE found that people observing Ramadan enjoy a positive effect on their lipid profile, which means there is a reduction of cholesterol in the blood. 

 

Suhoor


Each day before dawn, Muslims observe a pre-fast meal called Suhoor. Considering the high diversity of the global Muslim community (ummah), it is impossible to describe typical suhoor or iftaar meals. It can be anything halal - from dinner or iftar leftovers to typical breakfast foods to various ethnic food preferences. A few dates and a cup of water are usually the first foods to break the fast, while fried pastries, salads, nuts, legumes, and breads are also common. After stopping a short time before dawn, Muslims hasten to pray the first prayer of the day, the Fajr prayer.

 

Iftar


Iftar in Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul,Turkey

At sunset, families hasten for the fast-breaking meal known as Iftar. Considering the high diversity of the global muslim population, it is impossible to describe typical suhur or iftar meals. Suhur can be dinner, or iftar, leftovers, typical breakfast foods, or ethnic foods. Social gatherings, many times buffet style, at iftar are frequent, and traditional dishes are often highlighted. A few dates and a cup of water are usually the first foods to break the fast, while fried pastries, salads, nuts, legumes, and breads are common. Traditional desserts are often unavoidable, especially those made only during Ramadan. Water is usually the beverage of choice, but juice and milk are also consumed. Soft drinks and caffeinated beverages are consumed to a lesser extent.

In the Middle East, the Iftar meal consists of water, juices, dates, salads and appetizers, one or more entrees, and dessert. Typical entrees are "lamb stewed with wheat berries, lamb kebabs with grilled vegetables, or roast chicken served with chickpea-studded rice pilaf". A rich dessert such as baklava or kunafeh ("a buttery, syrup-sweetened kadaifi noodle pastry filled with cheese") concludes the meal.

Over time, iftar has grown into banquet festivals. This is a time of fellowship with families, friends and surrounding communities, but may also occupy larger spaces at masjid or banquet halls for 100 or more diners.

For many around the world, iftar starts with the eating of one or more (usually three) dates – as Prophet Muhammad used to do. Following that, Muslims adjourn for the Maghrib prayer, the fourth of the five daily prayers, after which the main meal is served.

 

Charity

Charity is very important in Islam, and even more so during Ramadan. Zakat, often translated as "the poor-rate", is obligatory as one of the pillars of Islam; a fixed percentage required to be given by those with savings. Sadaqa is voluntary charity in given above and beyond what is required from the obligation of zakat. In Islam all good deeds are more handsomely rewarded in Ramadan than in any other month of the year.

Consequently, many will choose this time to give a larger portion, if not all, of the zakat for which they are obligated to give. In addition, many will also use this time to give a larger portion of sadaqa in order to maximize the reward that will await them on the Day of Judgment.

In many Muslim countries, it is a common sight to see people giving more food to the poor and the homeless, and even to see large public areas for the poor to come and break their fast. It is said that if a person helps a fasting person to break their fast, then they receive a reward for that fast, without diminishing the reward that the fasting person got for their fast.

 

Increased prayer and recitation of the Quran


In addition to fasting, Muslims are encouraged to read the entire Quran. Some Muslims perform the recitation of the entire Quran by means of special prayers, called Tarawih. These voluntary prayers are held in the mosques every night of the month, during which a whole section of the Quran (Juz', which is 1/30 of the Quran) is recited. Therefore, the entire Quran would be completed at the end of the month. Although, it is not required to read the whole Quran in the Salatul Tarawih prayers, it is common.

 

Laylat al-Qadr


Sometimes referred to as "the night of power", Laylat al-Qadr is considered the most holy night of the year.

This is the night in which the Quran was first revealed to the prophet Muhammad, as stated in Chapter 97 of the Qu'ran. Also, generally, Laylat al-Qadr is believed to have occurred on an odd-numbered night during the last 10 days of Ramadan, i.e., either the night of the 21st, 23rd, 25th, 27th or 29th.

 

End of Ramadan

 

Eid ul-Fitr


The Muslim holiday of Eid ul-Fitr (Arabic: عيد الفطر‎, "festivity of breaking the fast"), sometimes spelled in English as Eid al-Fitr, marks the end of Ramadan and the beginning of the next lunar month called Shawwal in Arabic. This first day of the following month is declared after another crescent new moon has been sighted or the completion of 30 days of fasting if no visual sighting is possible due to weather conditions. This first day of Shawwal is called Eid ul-Fitr. Eid Ul-Fitr may also be a reference towards the festive nature of having endured the month of fasting successfully and returning to the more natural disposition (fitra) of being able to eat, drink and resume intimacy with spouses during the day.
Cultural aspects

 

Decorations


Various cultural additions are mistakenly associated as part of the original celebrations arising from the time of Muhammad, as many of the forms of celebration in various cultures and countries have added. For example, no symbols of Ramadan were evident in any scholarly literature of Muhammad's lifetime, yet in some places Ramadan is met with various decorations throughout the streets.

For example, in some Muslim countries today lights are strung up in public squares, and across city streets, to add to the festivities of the month. In Egypt, lanterns have become symbolic of Ramadan. They are hung across the cities of Egypt, part of an 800 year old tradition, the origin of which is said to lie in the Fatimid era where the Caliph Al-Muizz Lideenillah was greeted by people holding lanterns to celebrate his ruling. From that time lanterns were used to light mosques and houses throughout the city. In the West, many Muslim households have taken to decorating the inside of their homes to make Ramadan a more special time for their children. Usually parents buy new clothes and toys for their children or give them money.

 

Origin of the word Ramadan


The Ramadan, as a name for the month, is of Islamic origin. Some scholars have made claims that Ramadan existed before Islam as one of the twelve months of the Arabic lunar calendar. However, prior to Islam and the exclusion of intercalary days from the Islamic calendar, the name of the month was Natiq and the month fell in the warm season.

The first revelation to Muhammad was sent down during this month. Furthermore, God proclaimed to Muhammad that fasting for His Sake was not a new innovation in monotheism, but rather an obligation practiced by those truly devoted to The Oneness of God. One such example of those who observed fasting before Islam were the Jews who had migrated to Medinah awaiting the foretold unlettered Prophet. This may or may not be referring to the Jewish practice of fasting on Yom Kippur. It is possible that the obligation to fast during Ramadan comes from early injunction to fast on Ashura, the 10th day of the month of Muharram, which may have once been identical with the Jewish observance of the Day of Atonement.[31] Whether or not fasting on that day was obligatory, today, it still not uncommon for Muslims to fast that day voluntarily.

 

Pre-Islamic observation of Ramadan


Abu Zanad, an Arabic writer from Iraq who lived around 747 A.D. (after the founding of Islam), wrote that at least one Mandaean community located in northern Iraq observed Ramadan. Abdel Allah ibn Zakwan Abi al-Zanad claims that Ramadan originally had roots in India and the Middle East. He said that it is evident from Abu Zanadwritings, that Ramadan was a pagan ceremony practiced by the Sabians, whether they were Mandaeans or Harranians.

During pre-Islamic times the month of Ramadan was observed in Arabia, as a month when the various tribes observed a truce from any existing hostilities. Those days are commonly referred to as Jahilliyah, as Muhammad used to call those times himself. Ever since the Prophethood of Muhammad, Ramadan became associated with religious monotheism, and has been observed as such ever since.

Source: Wikipedia