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Internet links world's Muslims during Ramadan By Andy Goldberg

dpa German Press Agency
Published: Tuesday October 17, 2006

San Francisco- In the real world Sheikh Mohamed al-Moktar al-Shinqiti presides over a small Muslim community in Lubbock, Texas. But in the online world he ministers to millions of believers all around the globe who ask for spiritual and legal guidance on the popular religious site Islamonline.com. The site's fatwa section, in which Muslim websurfers can ask scholars religious questions, has seen an upsurge of activity during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Shinqiti says. As a legal scholar who specializes in the interpretation of Muslim law in non-Muslim countries, Shinqiti says he has answered questions from people in India, Uzbekistan, France, Canada and the US.

"It's amazing," says Shinqiti, 40, who was born in Mauritania, but who has lived in the US since 1991. "Its a great achievement to give people guidance and connect with people without being in the same space."

Shinqiti says most of his questions during Ramadan reflect the difficulty of fasting in a work culture that makes no allowance for the ascetic religious practice.

Numerous other Muslim religious sites are available to delve into the theology and religious technicalities of Ramadan observance. But there are also many websites that provide secondary services and information about Ramadan for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

On the video sharing site YouTube.com for example you can view over 300 clips about Ramadan and chat about the holy month with other viewers with names like "muslimspirit" and "mujahideen."

"Fasting can be hard," says a narrator on a video presented by a contributor called Living Halal. "But part of loving Allah is about giving up something you love for Allah."

On the photo-sharing site Flickr the Ramadan action is even more hectic. The website allows users to post and organize photos with specific subjects and features some 3,000 pictures on the theme of Ramadan.

There are dozens of attractive screensavers with Ramadan motifs and messages from Mohamed Eissa, a young graphic artist based in Cairo. There are inspirational shots of prayer shawls and mosques, and photos of dates and other traditional foods that could grace the pages of gourmet cookbooks.

Flickr's Ramadan category also displays more prosaic shots of food. One black and white shot features a teenage girl eating a bowl of breakfast cereal. The author looks like the average American teenager, but her comments make clear that she is different.

"I've attempted to do Ramadan since 7th grade (this is my 6th attempt) and this year is the longest I have lasted," she explains. "I'll be beginning my third day tomorrow, and I'm super proud of myself."

Information about Ramadan is featured prominently on websites like Islamicity.com that offer links to sermons, readings from the Quran, articles on Ramadan and online tools for giving Zakat or charity - one of the tenets of Islam.

Other websites, like bestringdownload.com offer Ramadan ringtones for mobile phones, while sites like Ramadan-cards.com offer electronic greeting cards for the holy month. Primarygames.com offers a section filled with Ramadan-themed games, while a plethora of websites offer Ramadan recipes.

"The Internet has changed my life as a Muslim," says Walid Khan, a grocery store owner in the city of Fremont, just outside San Francisco. "We have a strong Muslim community here but being in online contact with so many Muslims around the world makes my faith much stronger."

2006 dpa German Press Agency