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Spain's 1.8 million Muslims – including 50% of inhabitants in Ceuta and Melilla – start holy month of Ramadan
By thinkSPAIN Team Sun, May 28, 2017
NEARLY two million Muslims living in Spain started their month-long Ramadan celebrations yesterday (Saturday) with the first family feast last night.
The last two years has been particularly tough for the Islamic community in the northern hemisphere, since the longest day of the year was right in the middle of it, meaning even more time each day without food or drink.
Arriving each year in the 10th lunar month, meaning it falls at a different time every spring or summer, the holy 'feast' of Ramadan sees Muslims praying five times a day and also abstaining from smoking and sexual relations during sunrise and sunset.
At the end of every day, after dark, families gather together for dinner and small celebrations, then the final day of Ramadan month – known as Aid el-Fitr - is a huge party.
In fact, this final day of the festival will be a public holiday and schools will be shut in the Spanish city-province of Ceuta on the northern Moroccan coast – just across the Strait of Gibraltar - for the first time ever, given that the Muslim population of the enclave is nearly 50%.
Latest figures show that of Ceuta's 84,500-plus inhabitants, over 36,500 are Muslim, of whom barely 4,750 are foreigners, mostly Moroccan – the rest are Spanish and, although they are mainly of Moroccan descent, this dates back centuries and at least 32,250 Islamic inhabitants there have to go back numerous generations to find their original African ancestors.
As yet, Melilla – the other Spanish city-province in north Africa, although closer to the Algerian border – has not declared a public holiday or shut schools for Aid el-Fitr, despite having a similar demographic to Ceuta and, in fact, more Muslims than any other region in Spain: of its current 86,000-plus inhabitants, over 37,850 are Islamic and a slightly higher proportion are either original Moroccan or Algerian immigrants or second- or third-generation migrants.
The Union of Islamic Communities in Spain (UCIDE) explains Ramadan is primarily a religious festival but that it also has great benefits for mental and physical wellbeing – fasting is considered to be a form of bodily purification, as well as teaching Muslims self-discipline and restraint, whilst helping to raise awareness of what those living in poverty feel when they cannot afford to eat.
It is also largely a family affair, since the mothers cook up delicious multi-course meals for post-sunset and both parents tell children stories about their ancestors, whilst children have quality time to talk with their mums and dads.
Any activity which is not considered strictly necessary is put off to allow families to get together.
Charity and compassion figure heavily in Ramadan – after the group prayer which ends the fasting on Aid el-Fitr, a collection is made, normally of food parcels but sometimes money, for the poor.
This act is known as Zakat al-Fitr and is a great help across Spain where charity-run food banks are often the only supply of sustenance for up to 22% of families, most of whom are native Spaniards.
Aid el-Fitr combines similar philosophies to the 'western' celebrations of Christmas and All Saints' Day, given that children are given presents to unwrap, everyone wears brand-new or their best clothes, families go to the mosque for early-morning prayer and then to the cemetery to pay homage to their deceased loved ones, and spend their afternoon and evening with family and friends.
Spain's Islamic Commission (CIE) has long been urging authorities for greater support for Muslims during Ramadan – as they do not celebrate any other 'western' holidays such as Easter and Christmas, they would be prepared to work on those days if companies were open and these days could be swapped for finishing their shifts before sunset during the holy month and for their five-times-daily prayers, plus an extra hour over lunch on Friday for worship.
Any shortfall could be made up by unpaid overtime or be deducted from their wages, the CIE says.
With well over 1.8 million Muslims out of Spain's population of 46.5 million, this means 4% of the country follows Islam.
Non-Muslims should be aware that for the next month, local businesses run by Muslims – such as shops, eateries and internet cafés – are likely to open later in the morning and shut earlier in the evening until the end of June.
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