Friday, September 12, 2008

What kind of people would deny Muslim meatpackers food break at sunset in Ramadan?

DENVER (Reuters) - Meat processor JBS Swift & Co. has fired 130 Muslim workers after they refused to return to work in a dispute with the company over Ramadan fasting and meal breaks, company and union officials said on Thursday.

Manny Gonzales, spokesman for the United Food Workers Commercial Workers Local 7, said the employees were "unjustly terminated" from the meatpacker's plant in Greeley, Colorado, about 60 miles northeast of Denver.

"They (the workers) were not given adequate notice that they would be let go," Gonzales said. "We will file grievances for those who want their jobs back.

Swift, owned by Brazilian meat company JBS, the world's largest beef producer, had another dispute with Muslim workers last year at the company's Grand Island, Nebraska, plant. Several workers were fired after leaving their jobs to pray at sunset.

In announcing the firings, Swift spokeswoman Tamara Smid said the company adjusted its meal breaks to help workers concerned about observing the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Those dismissed, she said, lost their jobs for violating a collective bargaining agreement, not because of their faith.

"JBS is grateful to employ a multicultural work force and works closely with all employees and their union representation to accommodate religious practices in a reasonable, safe and fair manner to all involved," she said.

The dispute began when 220 Muslim workers -- mostly immigrants of Somalia and other East African nations -- walked off the job this week after supervisors denied them a food break at sunset.

During Ramadan, devout Muslims fast from dawn to dusk.

The workers were suspended for an "unauthorized work stoppage" and were told to return to the job or be fired, Smid said.

Despite the failure of negotiations between management and the union to resolve the dispute, some of the employees returned to work, but the 130 who did not were terminated.

Many of the African immigrants were hired at the plant after a 2006 raid by U.S. immigration authorities resulted in the detention of 1,300 Swift workers in six states. Most of those workers were Hispanics whom the government said were in the United States illegally.

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What's cooking in Asian kitchens?

SINGAPORE (Reuters Life!) - Aromatic beef porridge. Spicy snails. Rich mutton and wheat stew. Sweet vermicelli milk pudding, and lots and lots of dates. Ramadan may be a month of fasting, but for many Asian Muslims it's a gastronomical feast.

Food is as much a part of Ramadan, the holy month which began last week, as religious fervor, with Muslims devoting many hours to cooking the perfect meal to break the dawn-to-dusk fast.

The month is also a time for charity, with many mosques and

wealthier Muslims donating or cooking food for the poor.

"Ramadan is a big celebration for us in Asia, with a lot of special foods," said Ichwan Syam, secretary-general of the Indonesian Ulema Council, the leading Islamic legislative body in the world's most populous Muslim nation.

"Food is almost symbolic. It helps the poor, reminds Muslims of their social responsibility. It brings families together and it also brings joy after a day of fasting," he told Reuters.

During Ramadan, devout Muslims abstain from food, drink and sexual activities during daylight. A hadith, or saying, attributed to Prophet Muhammad tells Muslims they experience two joys: when they break their fast and when they meet Allah.

In a tradition harking back to Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, many Muslims initially break their fast with dates. The fruit, usually dried, is used in cakes, stews and sweets.

In Indonesia, no Ramadan would be complete without kolak, a refreshing dish made from coconut milk, starch, sugar and fruits which is eaten as an appetizer at the fast-breaking meal.

Kraca, a modest version of the French escargot, is also a favorite starter. It is made from fresh paddy-field snails, washed and shells pierced, that are boiled with lemongrass, spices and best enjoyed by sucking the fiery liquid and picking out the flesh with a stick.

To finish off the meal, most Indonesians eat timun suri, a tropical, pale yellow fruit shaped like a papaya but with white juicy flesh, which is chopped and tossed with a milky syrup and topped with shaved ice.


In mainly Muslim Malaysia, Ramadan means bubur lambuk, a special rice porridge cooked and distributed for free by the centrally located Kampung Baru mosque, one of Kuala Lumpur's most famous, for more than 50 years.

Every day, hundreds of Muslims queue for hours to get a taste of the famed porridge, which was originally made by one of the mosque's former imams.

"It's really nice, I can't wait for Ramadan to taste the porridge," said office worker Fareedah Hussein.

The exact recipe is a closely guarded secret but ingredients include coconut milk, beef, dried shrimps, ginger, cinnamon, star anise, cumin, Chinese celery, onions and fried shallots.

India's Muslims also enjoy similarly rich fare, including haleem, the months' most popular dish which hails from the south. Made from mutton or chicken or a combination of the two, the meats are stewed with spices, wheat and lentils until tender.

The dish is so popular that restaurants in big cities such as Mumbai and Chennai bring in chefs from Hyderabad to cook it. Mosques also provide a meat and rice porridge to the poor, which is usually funded by wealthy Muslims.

Sevian, made from vermicelli boiled in milk with almonds, pistachios, dried dates, saffron, ghee and sugar, is also cooked in large vats during Ramadan and eaten hot or cold.

"The season is unthinkable without the vermicelli preparation," said Pallav Singhal, executive sous-chef at the Grand Hyatt in Mumbai.

According to Islam, fasting during Ramadan is meant to purify the soul and unify Muslims.

Although the month's feasting often borders on gluttony with people stuffing themselves, clerics say Ramadan meals are also good for the spirit as many people donate food to the poor and sit down for meals with family and friends.

"Hardly any one goes hungry during Ramadan," said Indonesian cleric Syam.

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Where do Muslims in Paris break their fasts?

PARIS (Reuters) - It's sunset in the French capital, and hundreds of hungry people are poised to begin their meals at the sounding of a Muslim call to prayer.

Elsewhere in the world, the call rings forth from the minarets of mosques, but inside a tent in a gritty part of north Paris, it comes from a tinny radio speaker.

For the holy month of Ramadan, a soup kitchen has opened outside Cite Edmond Michelet, a tough public housing project in Paris' notorious 19th arrondissement. On the menu is a traditional dinner, starting with yoghurt and dates.

"A lot of people can't make ends meet nowadays, but they'd never tell you," said Ali Hasni, 45, a volunteer for the non-profit group "Une Chorba Pour Tous" (Soup for Everyone).

France is home to Europe's largest Muslim minority and debate about the integration of these 5 million people into an avowedly secular society is a recurring theme in a political arena where only a handful of Muslims hold government posts.

The tower blocks surrounding the tent are a common sight in the French urban landscape.

Often run down, the forbidding high-rises are home to many Muslim immigrants who came here to work in the construction boom of the 1960s and 70s, as well as immigrants from other faiths.

Many tower blocks were on the frontline in 2005 when mainly immigrant youths rioted across France after two teenagers were accidentally electrocuted in a power sub-station after a run-in with police. Violence has flared sporadically in many such neighborhoods since then.

The 19th arrondissement tops Paris' violent crime statistics, and unemployment is rife. But the soup kitchen's organizers are unfazed by its reputation.

"We adapt to wherever the mayor lets us set up shop, tough neighborhood or not. But we'd really like a more permanent address since demand rises every year," said Farid Adjadj, a 34-year-old postal worker who's been a volunteer since 1994.

While fights between groups of Arab Muslims and young Orthodox Jews make the local papers in the 19th every few months, some residents say tensions are under control.

"This is one of the most populous parts of Paris, and we get along very well -- I just wish that were the same in the Middle East," said David Siksik, a Jewish volunteer.


The tent, known as "the big top", stretches across several basketball courts. Most of those shuffling in are men on their own. Many speak in Arabic as they settle in at long tables set with plastic tableware.

The main dish is a spicy stew that is eaten -- in dozens of variations -- across North Africa, the Middle East, Southern Europe, Turkey and India. Here it's called "chorba" -- a French transliteration of the Arabic word for soup.

Une Chorba Pour Tous, which mostly targets poor Muslims, has been operating since 1992. Its 150,000 euro ($212,000) annual budget from private donations and public grants allows it to provide some 700 meals a day year-round.

But it is busiest at Ramadan when it serves an average of 2,000 meals per night. Charity is a religious duty in Islam.

"Charity is all the more important during Ramadan, and most of our volunteers are Muslim. But we don't exclude anyone who needs help or wants to help," said Fanny Ait-Kaci, 56, one of the group's founding members.


Food prices in France rose by 6.4 percent annually in July -- although overall consumer inflation eased 0.3 percent from the previous month -- and charities say many, especially the poorest, have been struggling to make ends meet.

Soup kitchen volunteers say most people who come to the tent are not homeless, but poor immigrant workers or solitary unemployed who, above all, miss living in a community.

"Many people come but wouldn't want their families to know they're here, especially since they might think they're living the high life in a rich country," Hasni said.

President Nicolas Sarkozy's government has angered many immigrant groups by cracking down on illegal immigration, but he has also championed labor reform as a way to fight poverty.

Unemployment has fallen almost a full point since he took office last year, but has since leveled off at 7.6 percent.

France does not keep official statistics on religion or ethnic background, so it's hard to see who is most affected by joblessness.

In the meantime, the soup tent fills.

"I live in a hotel and can't cook, so I came here -- if it weren't for this association I wouldn't be able to break the fast properly," said Karim, 32, an unemployed waiter who declined to give his last name.

"There's no real Ramadan spirit in my neighborhood in (more upscale) western Paris, but here, there's all we need," said Salima Hajjaj, a hairdresser who had come with her unemployed husband and three children.

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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Why do Muslims fast in Ramadan?

Check out this book on Ramadan and fasting: Essentials of Ramadan, The Fasting Month by Tajuddin B. Shu`aib

for a shorter answer, look at old favourite: Ramadhan, what the heck is that?

hope everyone has a blessed Ramadhan!

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