Ramadan fast under way in NZ

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by Greta Yeoman

Timaru’s Muslim community has begun the month-long spiritual fast.

The annual Ramadan holy month, which begins after the sighting of new crescent moon, began last Thursday in New Zealand, Timaru-based Muslim Salah Ragab said.

Muslims are advised to fast between dawn and dusk during the month, which marks when the first verses of the Koran, Islam’s holy book, were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.

Mr Ragab said while there were only about 10 Muslim families in Timaru, and people came and left town quite frequently, they still held gatherings during the month.

These evening events were held at dusk when they could break their daily fast, he said.

“It’s a spiritual thing,” he said of the religious practice.

“[It is almost] a warrant of fitness for your body.”

While Muslims fasted from both food and water during daylight hours, it was also a fast from bad habits, including smoking and speaking badly of people, he said.

Part of fasting from food was in solidarity with people going hungry around the world, he said.

“Heaps of people [are] suffering from hunger.”

Because of this, Ramadan was also a time when Muslims were encouraged to give donations to charities and other organisations that supported people in need, he said.

“[Because we] feel like they feel.”

At the end of Ramadan, which would be on June 17, there were always big celebrations for the Eid al-Fitr holiday, which marked the end of the fasting period and was the one day of the year Muslims were told they could not fast.

“Most people go to big cities to celebrate.”

Mr Ragab is part of the Timaru Muslim Association, which holds occasional events in the town, as well as keeping the town’s Muslim community in contact with each other, as the nearest mosque is in Ashburton.

He said most New Zealanders were understanding of his religious beliefs, and in his 18 years since he had moved from Egypt to New Zealand, he had only had two people tell him to “go home”.

“Kiwi people in general are really nice.”