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Islamic Holy Month of Fasting, Ramadan Begins


More than a billion Muslims around the world are celebrating the holy month of Ramadan. It is marked by prayer, fasting, and charity. The month of fasting in Egypt is also a time of celebration.

Observant Muslims celebrate Ramadan with prayer and fasting. From the first rays of daylight until sunset, observant Muslims will refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex. Many spend the day with their families in quiet prayer.

Cairo lawyer and Islamic scholar Kamal Aboulmagd explains that Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam.

"The first is, of course, believing in God and his prophet," said Kamal Aboulmagd. "The second is praying. The third is giving alms, money for the poor. The fourth is fasting for the month of Ramadan. And, the fifth is pilgrimage."

Ramadan commemorates the month when it is said the words of the Koran were revealed to the Prophet Mohammed, more than 1,400 years ago.

When the sun sets, the fasting ends. And the celebrations begin. People break their fast at tables piled high with food, which line the streets under colorful cloth tents. Young children traditionally carry special Ramadan lanterns to light their way. Special Ramadan songs are a familiar refrain.

"So, when you come to Ramadan, you have, particularly in the poor areas, people celebrate by carrying those lanterns, celebrating, and there are special songs that children do sing," continued Kamal Aboulmagd. "People visit, exchange visits."

For the 30 days of fasting, a special Ramadan drama unfolds on TV. Plays and concerts are often performed in colorful cloth tents set up at hotels and public squares around Cairo and other cities.

"It is originally a religious occasion, but added to this religious celebration, there is a social and entertainment aspect of it, provided, of course, that people do not violate other rules of the Sharia or code of ethics of Islam, explained Kamal Aboulmagd.

Still, Mr. Aboulmagd says, Muslims do not forget the significance of the religious month of fasting. First, he says, it is a test of willpower.

"Secondly, it makes you more aware of the suffering of those who have not the means to eat when they like and drink what they lik," he said. "So, in a sense, it creates a sense of social solidarity and awareness of the suffering of the poor and the needy and the weak."

A three-day holiday marks the end of the fasting month and the start of the period leading to the fifth pillar of Islam, the pilgrimage that every Muslim should make once to the holy Muslim shrine in Mecca.

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