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Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Muslims pray in the shadow of famine

A Palestinian boy swirls a firework in the town of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, grinning and full of happiness as he marks the start of Ramadan.

In a home in Hyderabad, India, women kneel with outstretched hands, offering special prayers in a ritual that will be repeated nightly during this Islamic holy month. And in outdoor markets around the globe, dates hang from dry branches and pack cardboard boxes, a sweet fruit to break fast with, as the Prophet Mohammed did.

These images captured in photos illustrate the joy and spirituality of Ramadan. But the holy time has also arrived in the shadow of deadly strife in the Middle East, famine in Somalia, and massacre in Norway, where less than two weeks ago an anti-Muslim extremist killed 77 people, many of them teenagers.

This Ramadan will be filled with strong emotions, said Mehtab Asfar, head of the Islamic Council in Norway. “Muslim or not, our thoughts will be with the victims and their families,” he told Agence-France Presse.

Ramadan is a deeply sacred period for the world’s 1.5-billion Muslims. It is a month that tests wills, as Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset to strengthen their faith through prayer, humility and sacrifice. Nights are filled with extravagant feasts, shared with family and friends.

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