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from Tales from the Trail:

Obama hosts Iftar dinner marking Ramadan

Three dozen foreign diplomats,  two Muslim American members of Congress  and some 9/11 families were among the guests invited to join President Barack Obama for what has become a White House tradition -- an Iftar dinner celebrating Ramadan.

"Tonight is part of a rich tradition here at the White House of celebrating the holy days of many faiths and the diversity that define us as a nation," Obama said in his welcome remarks.

"Like so many faiths, Islam has always been part of our American family, and Muslim Americans have long contributed to the strength and character of our country, in all walks of life. This has been especially true over the past 10 years," Obama said.

The president said Ramadan was a time for reflection for Muslims and noted that this year it fell near the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Obama recognized  Muslim Americans who died in the attacks, others who responded in the aftermath and members of the military fighting in the wars that followed.

Mecca hopes to revive pilgrim tourism during haj

mecca (Photo: Muslims shop outside the Grand Mosque in Mecca, September 15, 2009/Fahad Shadeed)

Rashed Abdullah displays Oriental perfumes on a glass table to late-night shoppers in his small shop in Mecca ready for what he hopes will be a sales bonanza during this month’s haj pilgrimage. He is confident of attracting customers after fears of a swine flu outbreak kept many away last year.

“This year will be the best. There is really strong demand,” he said, standing behind an incense collection in one of dozens souvenir shops around the Grand Mosque in Mecca.

Business has picked up in Islam’s holiest city since Ramadan, the Islamic fasting month which fell in August and September when many visit Mecca. In 2009, the number of pilgrims fell to about 2.5 million but a record 4 million are expected next week when the haj begins.

Algerian court clears Christians of charge of flouting Ramadan by eating during day

ramadan 1Two Christian men on trial in Algeria for eating during daylight in the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan were acquitted on Tuesday, a verdict their supporters said was a triumph for religious freedom.

The two men, members of Algeria’s small Protestant community, were charged with offending public morals for eating at the building site where they were working before the Ramadan fast had been broken for the day. (Photo: Food shoppers in Algiers on first day of Ramadan, August 11, 2010/Louafi Larbi)

After the judge in the small town of Ain El-Hammam, about 150 km (93.21 miles) east of the Algerian capital, ruled they were innocent, a group of about seven Protestants standing on the steps of the courthouse shouted “Hallelujah!”

Malaysia TV station axes Muslim ad because of Christmas overtones

malaysianTV

(Photo: Screengrab from TV3 commercial on YouTube)

A Malaysian television station has axed a commercial for an important Muslim holiday after viewers complained that it looked more like a promotion for Christmas. State-linked TV3 aired the commercial earlier this month to wish the country’s dominant ethnic Malay-Muslims a joyous Eid al-Fitr, which is likely to fall on Friday and marks the end of a month-long Ramadan fast.

The advert shows an avuncular white-haired man taking children to a fantasy land aboard a flying trishaw, drawing complaints from Muslim viewers that it resembled Santa Claus and his sleigh. TV3′s news anchors apologised on Sunday’s prime time news broadcast, saying the station had stopped airing the clip — which stirred a storm on the Malaysian blogosphere with numerous postings lambasting what was seen as an insenstive move by a government-linked company. TV3 officials could not be reached for comment.

Malaysia’s government has struggled to balance relations between Muslims, who make up a majority of the country’s 28 million people, and minority Hindus, Christians and Buddhists who complain of growing religious intolerance.

Christian-themed TV shows spark complaints in Saudi Arabia, Lebanon

saudi tv 1Television shows with Christian themes have sparked complaints in Saudi Arabia and Lebanon in recent days, but from different groups and for different reasons.

In Saudi Arabia, a popular sitcom has drawn the ire of conservative clerics over an episode portraying Arab Christians in a positive light after the kingdom sought to sell itself as a leader of dialogue between faiths. (Photo: Saudis watch a religious programme during Ramadan, 15 Sept 2008/Fahad Shadeed)

A two-part episode of the sitcom “Tash Ma Tash,” which has aired during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan for 17 years, showed the two main Saudi characters, both Muslims, being advised by their dying father to visit the brother of their deceased Lebanese mother.

VIDEO: Roundup of Ramadan starting in Turkey, Asia, Afghanistan

Below is a Reuters video roundup of the start of Ramadan in Turkey, Malaysia, Indonesia, China and Afghanistan:

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Pakistanis start Ramadan fasting month amid flood misery

pakistan flood 1 (Photo: Evacuees from a flooded village dodge an army truck carrying relief supplies in Pakistan’s Punjab province on August 11, 2010/Adrees Latif)

They’ve been left homeless and hungry by the worst flooding in decades, but for many Pakistanis, their suffering is no reason to ignore Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month that began in their country on Thursday.

Floods triggered by heavy monsoon rain over much of Pakistan began nearly two weeks ago, and have killed about 1,600 people and disrupted the lives of about 14 million, including about two million who have been forced from their homes.

Many survivors from flooded villages have lost their stores of food as well as crops in the field and livestock, and are surviving on occasional handouts, living in the open.

Mecca Mean Time? World’s biggest clock ticks in Islam’s holiest city

clock saudi 1

A giant clock on a skyscraper in Islam’s holiest city Mecca began ticking on Wednesday at the start of the fasting month of Ramadan, amid hopes by Saudi Arabia that it will become the Muslim world’s official timekeeper.

The Mecca Clock, which Riyadh says is the world’s largest, has four faces each bearing a large inscription of the name “Allah.” It sits 400 metres up what will be the world’s second-tallest skyscraper and largest hotel, overlooking the city’s Holy Grand Mosque, which Muslims around the world turn to five times a day for prayer.

clock saudi 2

The clock tower is the landmark feature of the seven-tower King Abdulaziz Endowment hotel complex, being built by the private Saudi Binladen Group. “Because it based in front of the holy mosque the whole Islamic world will refer to Mecca time instead of Greenwich. The Mecca clock will become a symbol to all Muslims,” said Hashim Adnan, a resident of nearby Jeddah who frequently visits Mecca.

Stock markets in Muslim countries usually rally during Ramadan-study

datesRamadan, the holiest month of the Islamic calendar marked with fasting and prayer, is also an uplifting time for stock markets in predominantly Muslim countries, according to a study by the University of New Hampshire. (Photo: A woman displays dates, a traditional food to break the Ramadan fast at sunset, in Amman on August 8, 2010/Muhammad Hamed)

Stock markets in Oman, Turkey, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Pakistan, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Malaysia, Bahrain, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia generated average returns of 38 percent during the month of Ramadan over the years 1989 through 2007, according to the report, compared with their average 4.3 percent returns the rest of the year.

Observance of Ramadan this year is expected to start on or about Aug. 11 and finish on or about Sept. 10.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

In Pakistan, not over the moon

By Zeeshan Haider

Pakistan is battling Taliban militants, trying to patch up relations with old rival India and struggling to revive a limping economy but another issue has preoccupied the country over recent days: the sighting of the moon that markes the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

A row erupted when the Eid al Fitr holiday that follows Ramadan was celebrated in several parts of North West Frontier Province (NWFP) on Sunday, a day ahead of the rest of the country. Many Pakistanis say that violated a spirit of harmony and unity that should mark one of the
most important events of the Islamic calender.

Some clerics in NWFP announced on Saturday evening that the crescent moon, which marks the end of a month in Islam's lunar calender, had been sighted, meaning Ramadan was over and Eid would be celebrated the next day. But a government-appointed body of clerics responsible for
moon-sighting rejected the announcement, citing reports from the Meteorological Department that said the moon could not be seen on Saturday.