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Ramadan News: Middle East hungry for TV during Ramadan

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  • Zafar Khan
    Middle East hungry for TV during Ramadan http://edition.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/meast/08/31/ramadantv/ LONDON, England (CNN) -- Ramadan, that holy month of fasting
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 5, 2009
      Middle East hungry for TV during Ramadan


      LONDON, England (CNN) -- Ramadan, that holy month of fasting and dawn-to-dusk abstinence, is a key period in the Muslim calendar apart from its standing as one of the five Pillars of Islam.

      More typically associated with praying, fasting and religious contemplation, it's also the month that Muslims are more glued to the tube than at any other time during the year, much like Thanksgiving or Christmas in the United States.

      The dozens of TV drama series known as "musalsals," prepared precisely for Ramadan -- and the loyal following they attract -- is testament to its significance in the Muslim world's TV calendar.

      Quiz shows, talk shows and biographical series also form part of the annual Ramadan line-up. On the set of Ramadan's TV dramas

      "Part of the Ramadan tradition is to gather with friends and family and watch TV," Ismail Kutkut told CNN. Kutkut is the producer of a biopic about 1940s Egyptian singer Laila Mourad, one of Ramadan 2009's most anticipated shows.

      "There's a lot more advertising than usual because of the high viewership," Kutkut said.. "Subsequently, TV channels are able to pay series producers higher than average prices for their productions.

      "[That] encourages producers to make high quality shows since they're guaranteed a good return on their investment."

      Viewership shoots up during Ramadan, according to IPSOS, a Paris-based ratings agency, as does advertising -- and advertising costs. A 30-second ad on Dubai TV normally costs $1,748, according to the agency. During Ramadan, that jumps to $6,588, a 277 percent increase.

      Everywhere around the region, it's the same story. On Saudi-owned MBC1, an ad spot goes from $4,450 during the off-season to $12,104 during Ramadan -- almost three times as much, according to IPSOS.

      The streets and rooftops of Cairo, the Arab world's largest city, are plastered with huge ads for big-budget Ramadan shows, and the producers of programming across the Middle East compete fiercely for viewers.

      Egypt, with its decades-long cinematic history, has long dominated Ramadan TV. But new program producers in other Arab countries, Syria particularly, have lately been giving the Egyptians a run for their television money.

      "Egypt has a long history in movie-making that goes back a hundred years, whereas the Syrians are new to this," said Kutkut. "It's still too early to tell whether they will last in the industry."

      The shows air after the "iftar" meal -- the often elaborate family supper, eaten after dusk, when the daily fast is broken.

      "TV has become something of a main course during Ramadan and it shares the importance of food, and sometimes it overtakes it," Syrian director Bassam Al Mallah told CNN.

      Al Mallah's hit show, "Bab Al Hara," was the most watched musalsal of last year's Ramadan TV viewing extravaganza.

      "The Arabic viewer during Ramadan tends to be more of a homebody. Staying home with the family is part of the Ramadan tradition, so most Ramadan TV shows are primarily geared toward a family audience."

      "Bab Al Hara" is a perfect example.

      A period Syrian soap now in its fourth Ramadan season, the series is the story of a man and his pregnant wife who are separated during the French occupation of Damascus during the two world wars. It portrays the life of extended Syrian families, all in period costume, living in old Damascus neighborhoods during that time.

      "Bab al Hara," like most Ramadan series, is on every night for the entire month.

      Asked what made the show so popular, actor Milad Youssef said it was because it delved into family relationships like "the relationship between a father and his children, a mother and her children ... between siblings."

      "People were thirsty for such representations, especially since they were presented in a historical context," he told CNN.

      "When people saw that these values existed at a certain point in history and that it was on TV, they felt a kind of melancholy for that, and no doubt this reflects certain values that exist in today's society."

      Sometimes the shows can go too far, though, sparking condemnation from conservative clerics in the region.

      Last Ramadan, the hugely successful Turkish-made soap "Noor," whose end was timed to coincide with the holiday, was slammed by Saudi Arabia's Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh as an immoral show produced by "people who are specialists in crime and error, people who invite men and women to the devil."

      The show, which in one episode alone last year reached a whopping 85 million people scattered from Morocco to the Gulf, features the marriage of "poor but proud" Noor to "rich but macho" Muhannad.

      Biographical series, like the one featuring singer Mourad, are also extremely popular with Ramadan audiences, according to Kutkut.

      "There's a huge demand for this genre," he said, adding that if he had shopped his Mourad show around, he probably could have sold it to at least "18 different channels."

      Kutkut said shows that touch on pan-Arab issues, using actors from different countries speaking different Arabic dialects, also have tremendous appeal around the region. "Shows that bring down barriers really appeal to people's sensibilities," he said.

      Egyptian actor, musician, TV talk show host and president of the Cairo Film Festival, Ezzat Abou Ouf, who plays Mourad's father in this year's biopic of the singer, said out of the some 60-80 TV series he's involved with each year, 50 of them are destined for Ramadan.

      "People are just so attached to the television during Ramadan," he said. "We don't work a lot then, maybe that's the reason, I don't know."

      Wasting Ramadan

      All studies show that in the holy month of fasting society consumes more.. Abdel-Moneim Said asks why


      For many years I have been concerned with the idea of "wealth generation" as the chief means for overcoming many of the ills that plague our society, which is struggling to break free from the cycle of general poverty and underdevelopment. I have often stressed the enormous resources we can draw on if only someone could convert them from their latent state into a driving force in our economic life. We need to turn our "dead capital" into the type of "live capital" that stimulates markets, creates job opportunities and improves standards of living for millions of our people.

      However, my optimism on this has always been dampened by a grim side to the problem. Poor societies tend to be wasteful societies. Or they drive wealth away. We encumber the development of our vast tracts of land with various financial laws, and we encumber other forms of wealth with a host of rules and regulations that keep it from the market place, as was the case with Egyptian real estate for many years. Housing units were places to live in and that was that. They were never to be put into circulation on the market, rated for mortgages, or developed to enhance their value. We also waste wealth through excessive or inappropriate spending, as is generally our habit in Ramadan. The way we celebrate this holy month has become akin to a folk custom, as opposed to a religious rite.

      Take, for example, increased food consumption during this month. Egyptians' food purchases during Ramadan soar beyond all other monthly consumer averages, straining the efforts of ministers concerned with supply and domestic trade to keep up with demand. According to a recent study by the National Centre for Social and Criminal Research (NCSCR), 83 per cent of Egyptian families alter their food consumption habits during Ramadan in a way that augments their food bill for this month by 50 to 100 per cent. If total annual consumer spending in Egypt comes to around LE200 billion, LE30 billion of this is spent in Ramadan, which is to say at a rate of LE1 billion a day, the bulk of which goes to food in this month of "fasting".

      The NCSCR study observes that during this month Egyptians spend 66.5 per cent more on meat and poultry, 63 per cent more on sweets, and 25 per cent more on nuts and nibbles, and they host 23 per cent more banquets and dinner parties. The study further notes that at least 60 per cent of food on an average Egyptian family table, and more than 75 per cent of food in a banquet, goes to waste, which is to say tossed into the rubbish bin, during this month.

      According to statistics from the National Census Centre, in the first week of Ramadan Egyptians consume 2.3 billion loaves of bread, 10,000 tonnes of fuul, 40 million chickens, 200 per cent more yoghurt and ghee, and some LE9 million worth of dried fruits, which accounts for 35 per cent of the annual trade in this festive staple. Across Egypt's 28 governorates, the National Natural Gas Authority has to pump out 20 per cent more natural gas, and the same applies to water. In addition, the peak hours for electricity consumption rise to between four and five hours, up from two to three hours per night the rest of the year. Much of this can be chalked up to Ramadan lighting decorations and, specifically, illegal taps into the grid in order to feed the decorations hoisted up in alleyways or even large squares.

      Then there are the medical studies that indicate that the general state of public health declines during this month. In spite of the fact that there are only two meals a night during Ramadan, the Iftar at sunset and the Sohour before sunrise, medical authorities report higher rates of diabetes and cardiovascular illnesses due to overindulgence in fats and sweets. Some medical statistics also point to an increased consumption of over- the-counter medications related to digestive disorders, from stomach ulcers to colitis.

      If the above facts and figures tell us anything it is that over-consumption during Ramadan drains the family budget, strains the national economy (due to the rise in food imports, particularly of dried fruits and nuts from Turkey, Syria and India), depletes Egyptians' savings and ruins their health. To compound matters, Ramadan, this year, coincides with the beginning of school, putting an additional strain on the Egyptian family budget, especially that of limited income families. Many of these are certain to find themselves encumbered by debt after the month draws to a close, largely due to careless spending.

      The media offers a second type of testimony to the way we have come to celebrate Ramadan. One only has to open the several pages of TV guides in one's daily newspaper to appreciate the vast numbers of made-for- Ramadan TV serials, comedy programmes, celebrity talk shows, not to mention the phone-in contests and games that are aired throughout this month. The Egyptian television audience has a choice between more than 40 Egyptian or Arab serials broadcast over satellite networks. There are enough serials, alone, to take the viewer twice around the clock within a single day; enough to indicate beyond a doubt that Ramadan has become a month dedicated solely to entertainment and amusement. Evidently some quarters have begun to plead for a reduction in the numbers of programmes especially produced for television and the radio for this month because such is the glut that some producers have found it extremely difficult to find scheduling for their products
      during prime time. This applies in particular to the production sector of the National Radio and Television Broadcasting Company, the Cairo Company for Audio- Visual Production, and other such public companies that do not work jointly with private sector firms. From a practical and economic standpoint, all that time spent in front of the television until the early morning hours obviously diminishes one's competence and productivity at work during the daytime in Ramadan.

      Which brings us to the third feature of the way we celebrate this month. So little value is given to work during this month, at least in the various government departments and agencies, that one might think that a whole class of civil servants, regardless of rank, regard Ramadan as the month of licensed indolence. Employees report to work late and/or sign out early on the grounds of their weariness due to fasting, and whoever dares object is treated to the growl, "Don't ruin my fast!" The labourer, engineer or physician who is diligent and conscientious at work is many times better than the man who prays, fasts and recites his Quran without putting their meanings into practice. This is precisely what the mufti of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, meant when he cautioned government employees against using fasting, prayer or reading the Quran as a pretext for not doing their jobs and hampering the welfare of the people.

      A fourth phenomenon is the proliferation of mawaed al-rahman -- the banquet tables for the poor that are sponsored by MPs, business magnates, cinema celebrities and sports stars. The global economic downturn has not hampered the spread of these tables, which feed some three million people but which, at an estimated cost of around LE3 billion, have turned into something that blends ostentatious piety with status exhibitionism and politicking, as opposed to morally inspired charity. Recently the governor of Alexandria called for the abolishment of the mawaed al-rahman so that the money spent on them could actually be channelled to help the poor and the needy. Equally perturbed by the phenomenon, former mufti Nasr Farid Wasil said, "There is nothing wrong with the mawaed al-rahman per se, from the point of view of Sharia law. What is wrong is the extravagance that is lavished on them. We hear now of 'five-star' tables, when all that a Muslim should need to
      break his fast is some dates or a glass of juice and a little food."

      In other words, instead of serving as a means to strengthen social cohesion the banquet tables have become an excuse for conspicuous spending.

      There has been a rise in the numbers of omra -- the minor pilgrimage performed outside of the pilgrimage season -- in general and in Ramadan in particular. It is as though this rite has turned into a kind of religious tourism and a way for some to make a quick and easy profit. This year the societies and agencies that organise omra excursions are currently contending with a fall in demand and other complications arising from the threat of swine flu. However, this does not refute the general trend that has turned the holy month of Ramadan from a time to draw closer to God through fasting and contemplation, wherever one might happen to be in this world, into a season for drawing closer to God through supplementary annual pilgrimages to Mecca.

      There are many reasons behind the religious duty of fasting. It hones self-discipline and control over our instincts. It teaches compassion, tolerance and mutual support. But fasting also has greater collective ends, for it should also compel societies to regulate the use of their wealth so as to avoid waste and optimise the potential it offers. This raises the long unanswered question as to why we still behave as we do during Ramadan. Year after year we have taken note of this and remarked on the extravagance that has become so much a part of our Ramadan rites and rituals. In fact, in spite of our society's trend towards more rigid conservatism, if not fanaticism, the phenomenon is becoming more pronounced and widespread.

      It is a curious and perplexing irony that merits considerable thought. Could it be that it ultimately boils down to the fact that we do not know the value of wealth to begin with?

      Indonesia: Opening hours for food stalls causing a stir this Ramadan


      Get to your feet for a healthy Ramadan


      Thanks to awareness about the health risks associated with not doing any exercise, many people have now either joined a gym, bought a treadmill or booked aerobic, yoga and other classes to stay fit. Some people have made a pronounced lifestyle change by ensuring at least a half hour of exercise every day. What happens to these same people during Ramadan?
      Much has been written about the adoption of unhealthy eating habits during Ramadan, but another important issue is why people simply stop exercising during Ramadan, particularly when heavy Iftars and over-eating on social occasions is a given.
      “Ramadan is one of the best times to lose weight but Saudis and expatriates both adopt unhealthy habits, due in part to a lack of awareness about sport and physical activities,” remarked Mohammed Barnawi, a physical education instructor and Dietician, in an interview with Saudi Gazette. “Continuing an exercise regime in Ramadan is a strong means to maintain health and balance, but people are less willing to do any physical activity during Ramadan, so they pack on the kilos.”
      Exercise, is therefore a must during Ramadan, but it is also important to keep the workout on a low profile while fasting. Undertaking a strenuous exercise regime can cause health problems like headaches, vomiting, dehydration and dizziness.

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      Fast to Understand Muslims: London Mayor


      London Mayor Boris Johnson has urged non-Muslims to fast a day during the holy month of Ramadan to help get a better understanding of their Muslim neighbors, the Daily Mail reported Friday, September 4.
      "I urge people, particularly during Ramadan, to find out more about Islam," Johnson said during a visit to East London Mosque and London Muslim Centre.

      "Increase your understanding and learning, even fast for a day with your Muslim neighbor and break your fast at the local mosque."

      In Ramadan, adult Muslims, save the sick and those traveling, abstain from food, drink, smoking and sex between dawn and sunset.

      Most dedicate their time during the holy month to become closer to Allah through self-restraint, good deeds and prayer.

      It is customary for Muslims to spend part of the days during Ramadan studying the Noble Qur'an.

      Many men perform i`tikaf (spiritual retreat), spending the last 10 days of the month exclusively in the mosque.

      Johnson said that having a better understanding of Muslims would help disassociate from negative ideas and end differences inside the society.

      "I would be very surprised if you didn't find that you share more in common than you thought," he said.

      The London Mayor praised the role of Muslims in challenging "traditional stereotypes."

      "Whether it's in theatre, comedy, sports, music or politics, Muslims are challenging the traditional stereotypes," he said.

      "[They are] showing that they are, and want to be, a part of the mainstream community."

      A recent government-commissioned study has also found that a torrent of negative and imbalance stories in the British media demonize Muslims and their faith by portraying them as the enemy within.

      British Muslims, estimated at nearly two million, have also taken full brunt of anti-terror laws since the 7/7 attacks.

      They have repeatedly complained of maltreatment by police for no apparent reason other than being Muslim.

      Difficult Ramadan in Gaza


      Many of the traditions that are observed during Ramadan are barely visible in Gaza this year.

      Israel's stifling blockade has made it impossible for people here to bring in all of the customary items they buy during this busy shopping month. Lanterns and lights that decorate Gaza's streets are intermittently on because of electricity cuts.

      The prices of children's toys and clothes, most of which are smuggled from Egypt, are beyond the reach of most families. Personal income continues to drop in Gaza as the local economy has all but collapsed.

      Al Jazeera's Ayman Mohyeldin reports about the dire conditions one homeless family in Gaza has had to face this year.

      Pakistan Ramadan Fights Smoking


      Shah Zareen, 45, has been smoking for most of his adult life.
      But he is determined to emerge victorious from his painstaking battle against smoking during the holy fasting month of Ramadan.

      "I will begin my mission from this Ramadan," Zareen, a juice shop owner, told IslamOnline.net.

      During Ramadan, adult Muslims, save the sick and those traveling, abstain from food, drink, smoking and sex between dawn and sunset.

      Zareen, who smokes from 25 to 30 cigarettes a day, has already chalked out his plan to quit smoking during Ramadan with the help of his eight-year-old daughter Rozina.

      "Of course, there will be no smoking during the fasting time. But after that whenever I have an urge, my daughter will give me a glass of water, which will help me maintain my will-power," he said.

      "I don’t want to ruin my health any more."

      Zareen is inspired by one of his friends who managed to get rid of smoking during last Ramadan.
      "His success story has propelled not only me, but a couple of other common friends to quit smoking."

      Smoking is embedded in the culture of Pakistan, where tobacco consumption is on the rise despite government and NGOs efforts.

      According to a survey by the Health Ministry's tobacco control department, some 40 percent of men and 8 percent of women in Pakistan are addicted to smoking.

      A majority of them are chain smokers.

      According to World Health Organization (WHO), over one million people die every year in Pakistan as a result of the use of tobacco in various forms.

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      Serbia’s Ramadan..Time For Reconciliation


      After years of deadly civil wars in the Balkans, the holy fasting month of Ramadan is bringing a sense of reconciliation and unity for Serbia’s Muslim minority.
      "It is hard, but it brings a feeling of unity," Esad Zaimovic, a 45-year-old banker, told the German news agency dpa on Thursday, September 3.

      As soon as the fasting month started in the Balkan country two weeks ago, life switched to the Ramadan rhythm.

      Mosques crammed with worshippers to perform the Tarawih, a special nightly prayers during Ramadan.

      "It is part of our national awakening," Zaimovic said.

      "It has spread through urban and rural areas.”

      In Ramadan, adult Muslims, save the sick and those traveling, abstain from food, drink, smoking and sex between dawn and sunset.

      Muslims dedicate their time during the holy fasting month to become closer to Allah through prayer, self-restraint and good deeds.

      It is customary for Muslims to spend part of the days during Ramadan studying the Noble Qur'an.

      “We also have respect, sympathy and even support in (mostly Christian Orthodox) cities like Podgorica and Belgrade, where more and more Christians are embracing the practice of fasting," said Zaimovic.

      Serbia has a Muslim minority of nearly half a million, mostly ethnic Bosniaks and Albanians.

      Better Tomorrow

      Muslims hope that the dawn-to-dusk fasting month will turn over their page of suffering in Serbia.

      "The war cost us a lot, it cost us all too much," said Mufti Muhamed Jusufspahic.

      Former Yugoslavia was plunged into a series of deadly civil wars that dismembered the former Communist state.

      The war was characterized by mass war crimes and ethnic cleansing, that was culminated by the Bosnian war in 1992.

      At least 200,000 people were killed and thousands forced from their homes in the 1992-1995 war, triggered by the break-up of the former Yugoslavia.

      Nearly 20,000 Muslim women were systematically raped during the war.

      Bosnia accused Serbia of masterminding the widespread "ethnic cleansing" of Bosnian Muslims and Croats during the war.

      The war, let alone Kosovo’s independence, have fuelled anti-Muslim sentiments in Serbia.

      "Goodwill faltered before, and people allowed themselves to torch the mosques to try and keep the divisions," Jusufspahic said, referring to the burning down of mosques in Belgrade in 2004.

      He, however, still hopes for a better future.

      "After the dark 1990s, there finally is hope in a better tomorrow."

      Kosovo’s Fasting Cafes


      Walking down the streets in any of Kosovo’s cities during the holy days of Ramadan, one can’t help noticing that almost every cafe and restaurant on the way is either closed or deserted.
      “Most of the cafes are closed during day time in Ramadan,” Sheikh Muhamed Hoxha, Secretary General of the Islamic Center in Pudjeva city, told IslamOnline.net.

      “The very few cafes that are not closed stay open only for people to meet and talk. No food. No drinks.”

      This leaves Kosovo streets with unusual calmness during daytime in Ramadan, the holiest month in Islamic calendar.

      Ramadan Iftar Defies Economic Crunch


      While the global economic crisis has forced many to change their lifestyles, it was never an excuse for Muslim families to shun their habit of throwing iftar banquets in the holy fasting month of Ramadan.
      "This is the only month when families get together for banquets,” Emirati housewife Umm Saeed told Agence France-Presse (AFP) in Dubai on Sunday, August 30.

      “They do not care about the crisis; people forget about their worries during those get-togethers."

      Across the Middle East, Muslim families are busy preparing iftar banquets for relatives and friends during the fasting month.

      In the oil-rich Gulf region, supermarkets are crammed with customers, shopping for food and drinks in preparation for the iftar, sometimes served in lavish tents or hotel ballrooms.

      "Food is food no matter if there is an economic crisis; people are buying and cooking the same quantities as last year,” said Mashael Mekki, a Sudanese living in Dubai.

      A financial firestorm swept the US in September after the collapse and financial woes of a number of Wall Street giants. The crisis has since knocked down markets worldwide.

      In Ramadan, adult Muslims, save the sick and those traveling, abstain from food, drink, smoking and sex between dawn and sunset.

      Most dedicate their time during the holy month to become closer to Allah through self-restraint, good deeds and prayer.

      Muslims are also drawing closer to one another during the holy month by coming together each evening to pray and break their fasts.

      “It's Ramadan; people are hungry,” said Mekki.

      "I am buying the same things as I did last year. The same people who have invited us last year are also inviting us this year."

      US Ramadan Iftar for Non-Muslims


      Capitalizing on the holy fasting month's spirit of sharing and seeking to enhance understanding of their faith, American Muslims in South Jersey region organized a collective iftar that joined them with their non-Muslim neighbors.
      "The idea is just to share with our non-Muslim community the meaning of Ramadan," Rafey Habib, a member of the Islamic Center of South Jersey, told the Courier Post Sunday, August 30.

      "It's a time of giving and it's a time of sharing."

      Celebrating the advent of Muslims’ holy month, the Center opened its doors to the area’s non-Muslims to share iftar banquets with members of the Muslim community.

      It was the third year that the Islamic Center organizes such an event during Ramadan.

      This year, the event has drawn over 50 non-Muslims from the neighboring areas.

      When the sunset fell, guests watched as Muslims gathered for Maghreb prayer, the fourth of the five daily Muslim prayers.

      After the prayer, everyone gathered on the banquet for the meal by which Muslims break their day-long fast.

      Ramadan, the holiest month in Islamic calendar, started on Saturday, August 22, in South Africa, where Muslims make up to 1.5 percent of a 44-million population.

      In Ramadan, adult Muslims, save the sick and those traveling, abstain from food, drink, smoking and sex between dawn and sunset.

      Most dedicate their time during the holy month to become closer to Allah through self-restraint, good deeds and prayer.
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