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Daily Archives: November 5, 2008

Young ‘heroes’ in Iraq get a taste for fasting

by Marwa Sabah*

Children are allowed to tuck into food during Ramadan, but some Iraqi boys and girls who join the adults in fasting during the Muslim holy month are seen as young heroes in the war-ravaged nation.
Iraq's increasingly conservative society is seeing more children — some as young as four — refrain from food during the daylight hours and thus earn the respect of their parents and peers.
Religious scholars say girls should only start fasting from the age of nine and boys should wait until they are 15 before observing Ramadan.
But four-year-old Ahmed Mohammed has started 11 years ahead of his time. He said he was still asleep when his parents began Ramadan fasting this time, but when he woke up he told his mother that he too wanted to behave like a man.
"I told my mother I want to fast," Ahmed said with a smile. "I refused to eat. I felt hungry and very, very thirsty at first, but I didn't eat or drink till iftar," the post-sunset meal that breaks the fast.
To his family, young Ahmed is already a shining example.
"My parents and grandmother said I am a hero because I completed fasting on the first day of Ramadan," he said.
His mother, Amna, 25, said the boy is too young to go without food for more than 12 hours, but he is making a great sacrifice and she is proud of his willpower.
"I didn't force him to fast because I know he is still a child and can't go without food or water," she said.
She recalled how the boy began to cry because he was so thirsty, but he still refused water.
Many Iraqi parents try out what is known as "deer fasting," probably based on a belief that deer eat less during the summer, to get youngsters to go without food for shorter periods in preparation for full-blown fasting.
Ahmed's six-year-old sister Rand is on a deer fast.
"My mother and grandmother taught me this," the slim girl said while hastily adding that she felt like having an ice cream in the burning hot weather in Baghdad, where temperatures can still soar to around 40 degrees Celsius.
Most parts of the city of six million people have electricity supplies for only a few hours a day, making the heat difficult to bear even for the toughest adults.
Iraqi doctor Hussam Mohammed said fasting can have positive effects on children and young people, not to mention the adults.
"The children are better able to stand fasting because they have a lot of energy," he said. "But after breaking fast they should drink large amounts of water, especially in this hot weather."
Ten-year-old Gaith Mohammed is on his maiden fast this Ramadan and is thrilled to be following his parents, although he also admits that he cannot stop thinking about food.
"But my father encourages me all the time, so I am able to keep fasting like an adult," Gaith said.
In Iraq's once secular society, some adults still take a more lax attitude towards fasting. But roadside restaurants close during the day and the few that remain open do business from behind curtains for fear of attack from fanatics.
Sheikh Ali Bashir al-Najafi, a religious leader, said clerics encourage children to be weaned on fasting.
"Fasting tames the mind," he said, adding that Ramadan drills a sense of discipline into young children. "Fasting is also an obligation. It is one of Islam's basic practices."
Government offices close an hour earlier during Ramadan, allowing workers to return home in time for iftar. The fast is usually broken with a glass of water and a date, but for the children it can mean a feast of sweets.


South Africa to host regional summit on Zimbabwe crisis

South Africa will host a regional summit this weekend aimed at breaking a political impasse in Zimbabwe on forming a unity government, the foreign ministry said yesterday.
Leaders from the 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) will meet on the Zimbabwe crisis on Sunday, foreign ministry spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa said.
"It's on Sunday," he said, but added that the location had not yet been decided. "We are still working on the venue."
Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai signed a power-sharing deal on September 15, but efforts to create a unity government have stalled over disputes on who will control the most important ministries.
South African President Kgalema Motlanthe and other key regional leaders have already held two summits over the last three weeks to try to press the rivals into a compromise.
At their last meeting in Harare on October 27, Mugabe and Tsvanhirai agreed agreed only to bring the dispute before an emergency SADC summit.
A communique released after the talks said they remained divided over the cabinet posts, especially the home affairs ministry which oversees the police.
The new summit on Sunday aims to bring together all the leaders of southern Africa to save the power-sharing deal, seen as the best hope for ending months of political turmoil and halting Zimbabwe's stunning economic collapse.
The protracted political feuding has dimmed hopes of easing the plight of Zimbabwe's people.
Nearly half the population is expected to need international food aid by the end of the year, according to the United Nations, as the nation buckles under the world's highest rate of inflation, last estimated at 231 million percent.
The regional bloc has tried for seven years to press Mugabe into a compromise with Tsvangirai, but its members are deeply divided over Zimbabwe.
Some leaders are strong allies of Mugabe, who is still respected as a liberation hero, while others blame him for the country's economic ruin, which has caused waves of migrants to cross its borders to seek work.
President Ian Khama of Botswana, one of the region's toughest critics of Mugabe, on Monday called for an internationally supervised rerun of the presidential poll in Zimbabwe.
"We strongly believe that the one viable way forward in Zimbabwe is to have a rerun of the presidential election under full international sponsorship and supervision," he said in a speech to parliament.
"That way, a repeat of the past run-off presidential election, which was declared by regional and international observers to be neither free nor fair and was characterised by intimidation and violence, can be avoided," he said.
Tsvangirai won the first round presidential vote in March, when his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) gained a majority in parliament, forcing Mugabe's ZANU-PF into the minority for the first time since independence in 1980.
But Tsvangirai pulled out of a June run-off, accusing Mugabe's regime of orchestrating attacks that left more than 100 of his supporters dead.
Amnesty International released a report last week that found a total of 180 people had been killed and about 9,000 injured in political violence since March, most of them MDC supporters.
Heidi Holland, the author of a biography of Mugabe, said she believed that SADC had little influence over the 84-year-old leader.
"I'm not at all sure that Africa has the leverage that people believe it has," she said.
"I don't think Mugabe listens to African leaders any more than he does to his frightened people."