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Pakistanis prepare for Ramadan
Holy month could start day later than Saudi Arabia, elsewhere
By Javed Aziz Khan
PESHAWAR – Like Muslims worldwide, Pakistanis are ready to welcome the holy month of fasting, Ramadan, which will begin either July 21 or 22.
“Ramadan is the holy month of our religion during which Muslims fast from early morning until the sunset,” said Qari Fazal Rabbi, a religious scholar and prayer leader in Peshawar. “They offer prayers and recite the holy Koran and work for the welfare of mankind throughout the day and night to make their God happy.”
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and Central Ruet-e-Hilal (moon sighting) committee will likely gather July 20 to attempt to sight the crescent moon.
The purpose of fasting is to demonstrate submission to God, as well as meet the needs of the hungry.
“Most of the people pay their zakat (a tithe of 2.5% of cash and valuables in savings) during the month of Ramadan, which ensures the circulation of money from the rich to the poor in the Islamic society,” he said.
This year, KP has constituted a special committee of religious scholars Maulana Habib ur Rahman, Maulana Khair ul Bashar and Maulana Shuja ul Mulk, to try to ensure Ramadan starts on the same day in KP as it does nationwide. The committee will try to co-ordinate between local committees and the Central Ruet-e-Hilal committee.
"I love Ramadan, as it provides the entire family an opportunity to sit together during iftar and sehr,” said Anila, a housewife from Peshawar's Bara Gate town, referring to the daily meals that bracket the fast.
Last year, her family would rise at about 1.30 or 2am to prepare the sehr breakfast, she recalled. “The same happened while preparing iftar; we had to start cooking two hours before sunset. But at the end, it gives one satisfaction and happiness to be doing it to make Allah Almighty happy.”
Authorities have gone on high alert throughout Pakistan, fearing that terrorists might strike crowded places as in the past. Rehman Malik, senior Interior Ministry advisor, ordered police leaders of all provinces to ensure a peaceful Ramadan.
“All the deputy inspectors general and the district police officers have been directed to ensure strict security of worship places, busy trade centres and public places,” said Peshawar Police spokesman Nisar Ahmad.
In Peshawar, “Police have been directed to be more vigilant before iftar, when business hits its peak in the trade centres,” he said. “More traffic policemen would be deployed on all busy roads to ensure smooth flow of traffic during afternoon and just before iftar.”
“Policemen would be deployed outside the big mosques to ensure security of the worshippers,” DSP Riaz Khan said, adding that mosques are generally packed during taraveeh, the prayers offered after iftar.
Government relief measures
Sensitive to public discontent with unreliable electricity, the federal government is working to reduce the length of power outages.
It has reduced working hours at all government offices, setting closing time at 2pm instead of 4pm. On Fridays, offices will close at noon.
The federal government has directed the Water and Power Development Authority to ensure minimal “load shedding” during Ramadan and to avoid outages during iftar and sehr.
“There is no deadline to end load shedding,” Water and Power Minister Ahmad Mukhtar said July 15. “But the government would try to avoid the practice during the month of Ramadan.”
To help the poor, the cabinet’s Economic Co-ordination Committee has approved a Ramadan relief package of Rs 2.5 billion (US $26.4m) for essential food items. It reduced prices, effective July 15, on 1,800 necessities at 5,800 state-owned Utility Stores nationwide that sell at subsidised prices. For example, 20kg bags of flour have been marked down by Rs. 150 (US $1.59) and now cost between Rs. 600 (US $6.35) and Rs. 700 (US $7.40).
“The prime minister (Raja Pervaiz Ashraf) has directed to arrange mobile Utility Stores in areas where the facility is not available,” said Asif Ali, manager of a Peshawar Utility Store. “The purpose is to ensure selling daily-use items ... at reasonable prices.”
Price-gouging a problem
Prices soared up to 30% a week before Ramadan, some consumers said. “Sela rice was Rs. 105 (US $1.11) per kg until last week, but on July 18, the price went up to Rs. 120 (US $1.27),” said auto-rickshaw driver Abdul Haseeb.
The Peshawar district administration banned the export of meat, to prevent exports to Afghanistan from reducing local supplies and driving up prices. Special law enforcement teams are working throughout KP to stop price-gouging traders.
The Pakistani government also will set up special sasta discounted bazaars throughout KP and the country to provide food and necessities at lower prices. “Sasta bazaars will be organised in four places (in Peshawar),” Peshawar District Co-ordination Officer Javed Khan Marwat said. “The district administration is in contact with the traders as well as keeping a check in order to avoid any kind of artificial price hike and black marketing.”
The Punjab government has announced a subsidy of Rs. 4 billion (US $42.2m) to ensure the sale of essential food and other necessities at discounted prices. It also ordered the opening of 322 sasta bazaars across the province. At least 1,312 price magistrates will try to curb profiteers.
The Sindh government also has set up sasta bazaars and appointed personnel to fight price-gouging and black marketing.