Thursday, December 01, 2022

Ramadan begins in much of the Middle East amid rising energy and food prices

CAIRO ( Associated Press) – The Muslim holy month of Ramadan – when believers fasted from dawn to dusk – began sunrise on Saturday in much of the Middle East, where Russia’s invasion of Ukraine’s energy and food prices soared shot in.

The conflict has cast a shadow over Ramadan, when large gatherings over meals and family celebrations have become a tradition. Many in the Southeast Asian nation of Indonesia were planning to start observing on Sunday, and some Shiites in Lebanon, Iran and Iraq also marked the start of Ramadan a day later.

Muslims follow a lunar calendar and a lunar observation methodology can lead different countries to declare the beginning of Ramadan a day or two apart.

Muslim-majority countries, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates, declared that the month would begin on Saturday morning.

Sellers Selling Bread Waiting For Customers On A Street While Yemenis Prepare For The Fasting Month Of Ramadan Amid War In Ukraine ...

Sellers selling bread waiting for customers on a street as Yemenis prepare for the fasting month of Ramadan amid war in Ukraine and rising food prices, in Sanaa, Yemen, April 1, 2022. Photo by Khaled Abdullah / Reuters.

A Saudi statement was broadcast on the kingdom’s state-run Saudi TV on Friday and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and de facto leader of the United Arab Emirates, congratulated Muslims on Ramadan’s arrival.

Jordan, a predominantly Sunni country, also said the first day of Ramadan would be Sunday, during a break in Saudi Arabia. The kingdom said the Islamic religious authority could not see the crescent moon marking the beginning of the month.

Indonesia’s second largest Islamic group, Muhammadiyah, which has more than 60 million members, said according to its astronomical calculations, Ramadan begins on Saturday. But the country’s religious minister announced on Friday that Ramadan would begin on Sunday, after Islamic astronomers in the country could not see the new moon.

It was not the first time that the Muhammadiyah gave a different opinion on the matter, but most Indonesians – Muslims make up almost 90% of the country’s 270 million people – are expected to follow the government’s official date .

Many were hoping for a happier Ramadan after the coronavirus pandemic blocked the world’s 2 billion Muslims from many rituals over the past two years.

However, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, millions of people in the Middle East are now wondering where their next meals are going to come from. Rising prices are affecting people whose lives have already been pushed up by conflict, displacement and poverty from Lebanon, Iraq and Syria to Sudan and Yemen.

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Ukraine and Russia account for a third of global wheat and barley exports, on which countries in the Middle East rely to feed millions of people on subsidized bread and bargain noodles. They are also top exporters of other grains and sunflower seed oil used for cooking.

Egypt, the world’s largest wheat importer, has received most of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine in recent years. Its currency has now also taken a dive, which has contributed to other pressures pushing up prices.

Buyers in the capital Cairo turned up earlier this week to buy groceries and festive decorations, but many had to buy less than last year due to rising prices.

READ MORE: Muslims try to maintain Ramadan spirit amid virus restrictions

Ramadan tradition calls for colorful lanterns and lights that are stretched throughout Cairo’s narrow alleys and around mosques. Some people with the means to do so put up tables on the streets to dish up free post-fast Iftar meals for the poor. The practice is known in the Islamic world as “Tables of the Compassionate.”

“It could help in this situation,” said Rabei Hassan, the muezzin of a mosque in Giza, while buying vegetables and other food at a nearby market. “People are tired of the prices.”

Worshipers attended the mosque for hours of evening prayers, or “tarawih.” On Friday night, thousands of people packed the al-Azhar mosque after attendees were banned from stopping the pandemic for the past two years.

“They were difficult (times)… Ramadan without tarawih at the mosque is not Ramadan,” said Saeed Abdel-Rahman, a 64-year-old retired teacher, as he entered al-Azhar for prayers.

Rising prices have also exacerbated the misery of Lebanese, which is already facing a major economic crisis. Over the past two years, the currency has collapsed and the country’s middle class has been plunged into poverty. The collapse also caused severe shortages of electricity, fuel and medicine.

In the Gaza Strip, few people shopped on Friday in markets that were usually crowded at this time of year. Traders said Russia’s war against Ukraine had pushed up prices, along with the usual challenges, which put a damper on the festive atmosphere that Ramadan usually creates.

A Woman Looks At Ramadan Decorations Before The Holy Fasting Month Of Ramadan At A Souk In Sidon

A woman looks for Ramadan decorations before the holy fasting month of Ramadan at a souk in Sidon, Lebanon, March 30, 2022. Photo taken March 30, 2022. Photo by Aziz Taher / Reuters.

The living conditions of the 2.3 million Palestinians in the impoverished coastal area are difficult, exacerbated by a crippling Israeli-Egyptian blockade since 2007.

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By the end of Ramadan last year, a deadly 11-day war between Gaza’s Hamas rulers and Israel had cast a cloud over festivals, including the Eid al-Fitr holiday following the holy month. It was the fourth crushing war with Israel in just over a decade.

In Iraq, the beginning of Ramadan highlighted widespread frustration over a meteoric rise in food prices, exacerbated by the war in Ukraine over the past month.

Suhaila Assam, a 62-year-old retired teacher and women’s rights activist, said she and her retired husband were struggling to survive on their $ 1,000-a-month joint pension, with prices of cooking oil, flour and other necessities more than doubling. .

“We, as Iraqis, use cooking oil and flour a lot. Almost in every meal. So how can a family of five survive? ” she asked.

Akeel Sabah, 38, is a flour distributor in the Jamila wholesale market, which supplies food to the entire Baghdad Rasafa district on the east side of the Tigris River. He said flour and almost all other foods are imported, which means distributors have to pay for them in dollars. A ton of flour used to cost $ 390. “Today I bought the ton for $ 625,” he said.

“The currency devaluation a year ago has already led to a rise in prices, but with the ongoing (Ukraine) crisis, prices are soaring. “Distributors have lost millions,” he said.

In Istanbul, Muslims held the first Ramadan prayers in 88 years in the Hagia Sophia, almost two years after the iconic former cathedral was converted into a mosque.

Worshipers built the 6th-century Friday night and filled the square outside for tarawih prayers led by Ali Erbas, the prime minister of religious affairs. Although converted for Islamic use and renamed the Grand Hagia Sophia Mosque in July 2020, COVID-19 restrictions had limited worship on site.

“After 88 years of separation, the Hagia Sophia Mosque has regained its tarawih prayer,” Erbas was quoted as saying by the state-run Anadolu agency.


Associated Press writers Niniek Karmini in Jakarta, Indonesia; Andrew Wilks in Istanbul; and Abdulrahman Zeyad in Baghdad contributed to this report.

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