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Monday, September 18, 2006

Ramadan beyond civilizations

Posted by: "Ron Abdul Latif Coleman"
Sun Sep 17, 2006 4:41 am (PST)
Ramadan beyond civilizations
[Jaihoon's analysis of the Special programs broadcasted on the media around the world]

Life offers a variety of circumstances, which brings joy and pain, one after another. The dead winter is followed by the lively spring. From one side comes a sorrowful arrow that shatters our hearts, while from another side comes a caring needle to knit our hearts with the thread of hope. This has been the style of Destiny's run ever since its path, Time, has been created.
In the present war-torn and hate-burnt stage of humanity, the very word optimism is vanishing from the 'pocket' dictionary of our life. Violence and killing are widespread and there is no sign it will ever end. The 9/11 attacks gave a fresh twist to the end and means of the conflict between cultures. Innocents continue to be killed on both sides, but more worse is the erosion of trust between nations. Old friends have lost their ties, while the old enemies have become bitterer.
It is the leaders with vested interests who spark the conflicts and continue to fuel them for their own gain. However, for the masses, whose interests hardly match those of leaders, are more concerned with another aspect all together. As soon as the conflict begins, their curiosity comes into contact with the culture of the other side. The food habits, art forms, costume designs and the faith of the foreign country arouse much enthusiasm in their minds.
This is what one concludes when they see the program schedule of some of the media outlets around the world.
There is a growing interest in the minds of the Western masses to know more and more about the faith and practices of Islam. And it is this interest which made Bill Clinton, the former vice-president of US, to deliver the Ramadan speech at the White House
"As America's six-million-member Muslim community grows in numbers and prominence, Americans of every religious tradition are learning more about the origins and meaning of Islam. That on "the Night of Power," the Angel Gabriel appeared to the Prophet Muhammad and revealed to him the first verses of the Koran. That the Koran declares that Ramadan was the month Allah's words were sent down, and so should be spent in fasting."
The broadcast of Ramadan programs in the media is not new in the Middle East. Arabic channels are flooded with special talk shows and competitions with religious content. While the pre-sunset programs are more religious-oriented, the post-Iftar shows are geared for entertainment. Besides, the Indian Diaspora also comes with plenty of locally produced shows that are telecast on the mainstream satellite channels like Asianet, Kairali and the new Jeevan TV. Radio stations like Radio Asia have religious lectures and Hadith narrated throughout the day. Generous corporate sponsors sustain these programs, which in return help them to build a better brand recognition. Fabulous prizes are given away on quiz competitions and audience gets an excellent opportunity to revise their religious knowledge.
However, the case is slightly different in the Western countries. Muslims are a minority, and historically their culture is an infant, compared to traditionally Muslim countries or countries like India where Muslim culture made advent at the time of Holy Prophet sallallahu alaihi wa sallam itself. Muslims are yet to have their voices heard and their faith and practices are unfamiliar to the majority in the mainstream.
Yet, the fasting during Ramadan and its associated practices has become the featured topics for major media giants. Documentaries about Islam and its history are shown in series lasting for days or weeks. Experts from religious and political backgrounds are invited to speak and interact with the audience- be it viewers, listeners or visitors depending on the media in question.
BBC marked the month of Ramadan by broadcasting a program called One God, Two Worlds, that talks about the young Muslim lifestyle in UK. It gives an insight into the dilemma faced by the budding Muslim generation in UK between their spiritual brotherhood and materialistic country. Another program debates the true nature of Islam called 'Talking Islam' inviting views from people of all walks of life. 'Controversial' topics like Jihad are discussed with reference to its true Islamic context and the present misinterpretations.
Another program, 'Ramadan Reflections' organized by the Muslim in UK is broadcasted on Zee TV twice a day. Besides, Heaven & Earth Show talks about the significance of Ramadan for Muslims on BBC1,
On the Discovery Times Channel, a documentary entitled 'HE HAJJ' was broadcasted right before the starting of Ramadan. In the program, the all-Muslim crew follows five pilgrims as they prepare for the trek, leaving their modern lives, homes and families to perform the arduous physical and spiritual journey that every Muslim is expected to undertake in their lifetime. It provides an insider's look at this incredible and compelling annual event.
That's not all. On PBS, the popular documentary channel, another show named "Inside Mecca" follows three Muslims from very different backgrounds as they embark on an epic five-day reaffirmation of faith and quest for salvation. It captures the look and feel, spiritual uplift, claustrophobia, grandeur and grit of the largest annual gathering of Muslims in the world. The press release for the show observed that 'Part of Mecca's mystique stems from the fact that non-Muslims are strictly prohibited from entering the city. For this reason, very few non-Muslims have ever witnessed the rites and rituals of the hajj. To gain access to the city for "Inside Mecca," National Geographic assembled an all-Muslim production team. Led by Mehdi, who, in 1998, was the first American woman to report on the hajj on location in Mecca for U.S. television, the team obtained many never-before-seen images that capture the essence of Islam's remarkable pilgrimage.'
In UK, the thrust is on radio medium. There are many radio stations operating under the Restricted Service Licence (RSL) category which allows operators to broadcast for a flexible 28-day maximum over a 3km radius. Run by local volunteers, these stations provide a platform for amateurs in the broadcasting area. For those in East London, Muslim Community Radio hosts a special show under the label "Ramadan Special" which has shows for women, run by women - children's show, Fiqh sessions, quizzes, Bangla programs, Somali programs, Arabic programs, youth programs and light entertainment programs. Radio Ummah, a 24-hour Internet radio station, which also runs an annual RSL in east London. This year 26 such stations will be operating throughout Britain.
In Ramadan of 2001, the Washinngtonpost.com conducted a live Q&A session on its website in which visitors could interact with an expert on Islamic sciences to clear their doubts about the Holy month. One such question posed was "Imam, I am Jewish and unfamiliar with your customs. I don't want to ignore this holy month when I see my Moslem neighbors from down the street merely because I'm too ignorant to know whether there is a special greeting that is correct for Ramadan. Can you tell me whether there is such a greeting, and, if so, what it is? Also, is there a customary gift that it would be nice to give my neighbors at a certain time during the month (such as ceremonial foods for breaking the fast)? Thank you for giving me the opportunity to learn more about Islam"
Besides the above media programs, various organizations distribute free publications to the general public to spread awareness and dispel the doubts concerning the do and don'ts during this month. On October 23, Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) announced the release of its "Ramadan 2003 Publicity Kit". The kit is designed to assist Muslim local communities in offering people of all faiths accurate information about Ramadan and Eid ul-Fitr, the holiday at the end of the fast, the Washington-based Islamic civil rights and advocacy group said in a press release. CAIR said the kit contains Ramadan story ideas such as food drive for the homeless, families shopping for Eid clothes, the health benefits of fasting, and a child's first Ramadan fast.
To conclude, this new tide in the Information Era will pave the way for a better understanding between civilizations and further strengthen the unity of humanity that is day by day getting shredded by the greedy imperialistic mindset of the superpowers.
God-willing, the message of Ramadan will enter hearts of millions. A month in which the Archangel descended to the earth and commanded that Unlettered Orphan of Makkah to Read! And from then on, the world of knowledge received its freshest spark. A new thirst began. And the result was Science, Art, Literature, Philosophy and finally we have the Information technology.
Sallallahu ala Muhammad sallallahu alaihi wa sallam.

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