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Culture

Muslims Around the World Celebrate Ramadan

For many Muslims in Germany, celebrations are much like those in Turkey and other Islamic countries. But this year, European Muslims are introducing several innovations during the month-long fast.

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Dried dates offer a quick sugar boost after a day of fasting

From Berlin to Baghdad, Muslims around the world began celebrating the holy month of Ramadan on Wednesday with daytime fasting designed to cleanse the soul.

For the observant members of Germany's Muslim community, the fast of Ramadan will have many similarities to holiday celebrations in Turkey, Iraq, Iran and other Islamic countries.

During this time of year – the ninth month of the Muslim calendar – religious Muslims do not eat, smoke or have sexual relations during daylight hours. The daily fast is broken with prayer and a meal called the iftar. After the evening meal, visits with friends and family are customary.

A spokesman for the Turkish Association of Berlin and Brandenburg said this is how most observant Turks living in Germany will celebrate Ramadan. "It's basically just like it is in Turkey."

There are, however, a few Ramadan innovations coming from Europe this year. The Central Council of Muslims in Germany launched a new campaign at the start of Ramadan aimed at reaching out to young Muslims and at supporting construction projects in Afghanistan.

Prophets by phone

Starting Wednesday, the Council is offering to send out a daily message from the Muslim prophets via the recipient's cell phone. The service -- available in German or Turkish -- costs two euro a day, with profits going toward building schools and hospitals in Afghanistan.

"It's an idea that came up among friends," said Council spokesman Aiman Mazyek. "It came up because we realized that SMS is something that interests younger people. And we thought it was a good way of reaching out to the younger generation."

Because this is the first project of its kind for the Council, Mazyek said he wasn't sure how much money it would raise. "We hope it will turn out well," he said.

Mecca Cola

In France, meanwhile, an entrepreneur of Tunisian origin has launched a new soft drink called Mecca Cola that he hopes will give Coke and Pepsi a run for their money in the Arab world.

"We want to help Arabs and Muslims to stop consuming American products and to have their own ones," said founder Tawfiq Mathlouthi. "It's a new concept. It's economy serving ideology and politics."

Ten percent of the revenues will be spent on charitable work in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Mathlouthi told DW-RADIO.

How the drink goes over among France's estimated five million Muslims remains to be seen. Catherine Wihtold de Wenden, a political scientist who studies and writes about France's Muslim population, said it could be a difficult sell – especially to Muslim men.

"They don't want to be excluded because they want to be with French girls, for example. And if they have a beverage which is different from the others, perhaps that will make some difficulties for them," she said.

Sign of the times

Food and drink takes on added significance during Ramadan, when elaborate meals are prepared to break the fast each evening. Dried dates are traditionally eaten after sunset to provide a quick energy boost.

In Cairo, where a special date market opens up each year shortly before Ramadan, different date varieties are given new names each year. This year, the names are a sign of the times. The "George Bush" variety is competing with the "Leila Ulwi," named after a popular Egyptian actress. And "Scharons," selling at 60 cents a kilo, are the cheapest.

Ramadan runs through December 6, when the festival of Eid al-Fitr (Festival of Breaking the Fast) occurs. At this time, Muslims dress in fancy clothes, clean and decorate their homes and visit friends and family.

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