This is a message that came to us from an Iranian student, looking toward the upcoming month of Ramadan with unease about the possibility of further clashes with security forces:
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In less than two weeks we will have Ramadan. It is the best month of the year for Iranians to fast and pray. But this year’s Ramadan is different from the last ones. People who are still chanting Allah Akbar (God is Great) to show their frustration and anger with the 2009 election result and state violence against peaceful protests, are looking to actively participate in group prayers and religious ceremonies in the Mosques during Ramadan. They will continue their peaceful protest against the state’s violence while exercising traditional and religious practices.
During daytime in Ramadan, all restaurants are closed and eating and drinking publicly is banned based on the Islamic law. But after breaking fast (Maghreb), people pour into the streets to enjoy the cool and busy nights, as well as to say their prayers in Mosques and recite verses from the Qur’an. These nights are the best time for people to gather together, mingle, and share their thoughts. People usually stay awake late and go to work late in the morning since Iran’s government reduces the work hours during Ramadan every year. Iranian Shiites also mourn the commemoration of martyrdom of Imam Ali (PBUH) and pray during Ghadr Nights (19th, 21st, and 23rd and in some narratives 27th and 29th of Ramadan) when they believe the Qur’an was revealed to their prophet Mohammad (PBUH) by Allah. Many Iranians spend the entire night awake on these days in Mosques and holy shrines.
After the disputed 12 June election in Iran, the government has been forceful in preventing people from gathering, but during Ramadan it will not be able to ban people from celebrating this holy month by taking part in public gatherings. If the government were to do this, that would go directly against every previous year’s precedent in which they officially encouraged people to actively participate in religious celebrations.
This Ramadan is also different because Iran has recently banned Iranians from performing the Umra in Saudi Arabia during the holy month of Ramadan to slow the spread of swine flu in the country. The Umra can be performed at any time but is popular during Ramadan in which thousands of Iranians travel to Saudi Arabia for at least two weeks of pilgrimage.