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DUBAI: Last minute preparations are underway as Muslims around the world stocked up on groceries and dates on Wednesday for evening meals to break dawn-to-dusk fasting during the month of Ramazan. Saudi Arabia and other Muslim-majority nations, like Egypt and Indonesia, declared Ramazan would begin on Thursday based on a moon-sighting methodology. Muslims follow a lunar calendar, and a moon-sighting methodology can lead to different countries declaring the start of Ramazan a day or two apart.

Some mosques in the US already declared the start of fasting on Wednesday while others will begin on Thursday. For those fasting in North America and Europe, Ramazan falls on especially long days this year, with Muslims in some cities not breaking their fast until after 8pm.

India declares ceasefire in held Kashmir during Ramazan

India announced on Wednesday that its troops will halt counterinsurgency operations in held Kashmir during Ramazan. There was no immediate comment from rebel groups that are fighting against Indian rule in the region. The last ceasefire in counterinsurgency operations decla­red by India for Ramazan was in 2000.

India’s home ministry said in a series of tweets that the decision was made so Muslims could observe the holy month “in a peaceful environment”. Another tweet said Indian troops “reserve the right to retaliate if attacked or if essential to protect the lives of innocent people”.

The announcement came a week after all pro-India political parties in held Kashmir, including the ruling People’s Democratic Party which vaulted to power by forming an alliance with the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, urged the Indian government to cease counterinsurgency operations during Ramazan. The Bharatiya Janata Party, India’s ruling party, opposed the move in the meeting.

Egypt’s Sisi pardons 330 young prisoners for Ramazan

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced on Wednesday he pardoned more than 330 young people at the start of Ramazan, some of whom local media said were detained while protesting. “I ask the interior minister that these young people be present tonight with their families for the suhur” meal that precedes Ramazan’s daily fast, Sisi said at a youth conference broadcast on state television. Ramazan begins on Thursday in Egypt. Sisi had promised in 2016 to release youths imprisoned in protests that followed a crackdown of the supporters of former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, who was ousted by the military in July 2013 following mass demonstrations against him. Some “332 prisoner youth” have benefited from the presidential pardon, state-run Akhbar al-Youm newspaper reported on Wednesday.

Rohingya Muslims face difficult Ramazan in refugee camps

The 12-year-old Rohingya refugee dreamed of Ramazan back in his own village — fish to break the day’s fast, gifts from his family and relaxing beneath the trees before evening prayers at the mosque. But for M.D. Hashim and others like him living in squalor in Bangladesh, the start of the Islamic holy month now serves as a bitter reminder of everything they have lost since being driven from Myanmar in an army crackdown. “Here, we can’t afford gifts and don’t have good food... because this is not our country,” Hashim told AFP on a barren hillside in Cox’s Bazar district.

While Rohingya acknowledge that they were lucky to escape, now, with food and money scarce and temperatures soaring, Ramazan looms as a source of anxiety for many Rohingya. Sitting inside a plastic tent on a blazing day, Hashim fondly recalled the simple pleasures that made Ramazan the most exciting time of year in his village. Each night, friends and family would break the fast together with fish and meat dishes cooked just once a year for the Islamic holy month. New clothes would be offered and sprinkled with traditional perfumes called “attar” to mark the holiday, he said.

“We can’t do the same here, because we don’t have money. We don’t have our own land. We can’t earn money because we are not allowed,” Hashim said. The Rohingya are barred from working and more than two dozen military checkpoints restrict them from leaving what has grown into the world’s largest refugee camp. They rely on charities for everything from food and medicine to clothing and housing materials. Hashim must walk over an hour in the searing heat to reach the nearest market. “Unfortunately, it will be their first Ramazan to remember for the wrong reasons,” Roberta Businaro from Save the Children said. But despite the hardship the Rohingya would not abandon their traditions, no matter how challenging their circumstances, said imam Muhammad Yusuf. “It will be difficult while the sun is so hot, but we will still fast,” Yusuf said.

Published in Dawn, May 17th, 2018