As Ramadan begins, Muslim leaders seek calm, prayers

Palestinian shopkeepers in Gaza hang traditional lanterns known in Arabic as "fanous," which are sold during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. More than 1.5 billion Muslims around the world will mark the month, during which believers abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and having sex from dawn until sunset. Photo by Ismael Mohamad/ UPI | License Photo

May 26 (UPI) — Muslim leaders in Britain called for calm and special prayers for the victims of the Manchester bombing as the holy month of Ramadan begins.

Ramadan this year is being observed May 26-June 24 — the dates change each year. This year’s holy month comes less than a week after the Islamic State claimed responsibility for a bombing at a British concert arena that killed 22 people.

The Islamic State used the coming Muslim holy month to call for more violence against the West.

The timing after the Manchester bombing presented British officials and the nation’s peaceful Muslim community to do the opposite — use Ramadan as an opportunity to pray for healing in the wake of the attack.

Muslim leaders in Britain said the increased security around the country should not be seen by their congregations as a threat and called for calm as Ramadan begins.

“It is good for us to have the army and the police on the street,” Yusuf Hansa, the imam of a London mosque told the East London and West Essex Guardian newspaper. “I would say to people there’s nothing to be afraid of because they are there to keep the public safe. It’s a sad, sad time. We will say a special prayer for the victims of the Manchester attack and their families today.”

The holiday also comes as Palestinian leaders said they are prepared to renew peace talks with Israel.

During the 30 days of Ramadan, Muslims fast and refrain from drinking liquids beginning each day at sunrise. The fasts are broken after prayers at sunset in feasts known as iftars.

Millions of Muslims also make pilgrimages to the holy city of Mecca and other shrines as a show of devotion.

While for the vast majority of Muslims, Ramadan is a time for prayerful introspection, for terrorist groups like the Islamic State, it is cause for “all out war” — the declaration IS leaders made Friday.

Many terrorist groups consider attacks waged during Ramadan to carry added significance.

As they have in past years, the Islamic State used the start of Ramadan to call on radicalized sympathizers around the world to wage attacks in the style of the Manchester bombing or the Orlando, Fla., nightclub massacre. In videos posted online, Islamic State members told those who cannot travel to their self-declared caliphate in Iraq and Syria, to instead attack “infidels … in their homes, their markets, their roads and their forums … double your efforts and intensify your operations.”

While such pronouncements have become somewhat routine from terrorist groups, U.S. officials said they could carry added weight and appeal for sympathizers as Ramadan approaches. During Ramadan last year, the State Department issued a general travel advisory for Americans headed to predominantly Muslim countries, to “remain aware of the persistent threat of attacks, both inspired and directed.”

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