WASHINGTON — US President Barack Obama extended his best wishes Monday to Muslims beginning the holy fasting month of Ramadan, using the occasion to urge people to help victims of drought and famine in Africa.
His Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also extended good wishes to the world's 1.6 billion Muslims, while blasting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime for orchestrating a deadly assault against protesters at the start of the holy month.
Ramadan is "a time of deep reflection and sacrifice. As in other faiths, fasting is used to increase spirituality, discipline, and consciousness of God's mercy," Obama said in a statement.
"It is also a reminder of the importance of reaching out to those less fortunate. The heartbreaking accounts of lost lives and the images of families and children in Somalia and the Horn of Africa struggling to survive remind us of our common humanity and compel us to act," he added.
"Now is the time for nations and peoples to come together to avert an even worse catastrophe by offering support and assistance to on-going relief efforts."
Aid groups have scaled up operations to help millions of people devastated by a harsh drought in the Horn of Africa region. Somalia has been the country the hardest hit by the region's worst drought in decades.
Earlier this month, the United Nations said southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle regions in southern Somalia had been hit by famine, with up to 350,000 people facing starvation.
"Times like this remind us of the lesson of all great faiths, including Islam -- that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us," Obama said.
"In that spirit, I wish Muslims around the world a blessed month, and I look forward to again hosting an Iftar dinner here at the White House. Ramadan Kareem."
Clinton took direct issue with "the Syrian regime's violent assault on civilians... even as Ramadan began, highlighting again the brutality and viciousness of the Assad regime."
"During what should be a time of prayer and family gathering, we mourn the deaths of all those killed, especially innocent children," she said in a statement.
Throughout the month devout Muslims must abstain from food, drink and sex from dawn until sunset when they break the fast with the Iftar meal.
The fast is one of the five pillars of Islam, along with the annual pilgrimage to Mecca which able Muslims should do once in a lifetime.
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