Ramadan Around the World| The West
posted by Muhammad ‘Abd al-Haqq
CNN had a very interesting program on Ramadan.
Starting today, Muslims throughout North America will face nearly 16-hour days of fasting for the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
Ramadan is a time of self-purification, self-restraint and inner reflection for Muslims, who abstain from food and drink and other sensual pleasures during daylight hours.
During the month, believers focus on piety, charity and self-improvement.
This Ramadan, however, many suburban Muslims are reflecting on how far they have come as a community in the 10 years since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks sullied the image of the religion practiced by nearly 1.3 billion people worldwide.
On that ill-fated Tuesday, 19 al-Qaida terrorists hijacked and flew two commercial jet airliners into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, another into the Pentagon, and crashed a fourth headed toward Washington, D.C., in a field in rural Pennsylvania.
The attacks killed nearly 3,000 people — mostly civilians — from more than 70 countries, shocked the world, and shook the Muslim community to its core.
Some community leaders view Sept. 11 as a wake-up call that prompted Muslims to come out of their shell. It spurred more interfaith dialogue and outreach efforts, often held during Ramadan, as a means of breaking down barriers and improving relationships with non-Muslims.
“I think we started soul searching,” said Zaher Sahloul, a member of the Mosque Foundation of Bridgeview and chairman of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago. “This is the largest terrorist act which happened to our country. There is a lot of grief, which we share with any other American. And it’s also painful that people associate this act of terror with the Muslim community.”
Over the years, controversies surrounding a proposed Islamic community center near ground zero, a Florida pastor’s incitement to burn the Quran, and the recent anti-Islamic shooting rampage by a Christian extremist in Norway have fanned the flames of prejudice, he added.
“We have a very active industry of hate groups or Islamophobes spreading that Islam is not compatible with democracy, modernity, and freedom or Western values in general,” Sahloul said.
To counter such hatred on the grass-roots level, local mosques started opening their doors to non-Muslims hosting interfaith Ramadan iftars — fast-breaking meals Muslims eat at sundown, inviting civic and religious leaders to participate.
“The initial reaction was more openness and civic engagement with people of other religions and groups,” Sahloul said. “I think we are moving in the right direction in spite of the fact that you have right now a more negative perception of Islam than at the time of 9/11.”
The Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, which is an umbrella group for 56 Islamic organizations in Chicago and the suburbs, has launched a campaign, “Together for a Better America,” and is urging its members to have remembrance dinners during Ramadan honoring the victims and first responders of Sept. 11.
As part of the campaign, the council also is encouraging Muslims to participate in municipal and township planning of Sept. 11 commemorative events. The campaign will culminate Sept. 10 with a gathering of religious, interfaith and civic leaders honoring the victims and first responders.
FBI reaches out
Such events have offered law enforcement officials an opportunity to build relationships within the diverse Muslim community, Chicago FBI spokesman Ross Rice said.
“We made a concerted effort since 9/11 to reach out to the Muslim communities in Chicago and suburbs to make sure they are aware that we are there to protect their rights and civil liberties,” Rice said. “There are still people who are suspicious of the law enforcement community. Some stereotypes and perceptions are tough to change.”
Rice said the FBI will host its own Ramadan iftar this month and partake in many such dinners at area mosques. The agency also invites Muslim community leaders, as well as members of other ethnic groups, businesses, and media to participate in its yearly Citizen’s Academy, he added.
“We reach out as best we can to all ethnic and religious groups, not just Muslims,” he said. “I think we have a lot more understanding and a lot of trust with many members of the Muslim community. We have a much better knowledge and understanding of the Islamic faith.”
Rice said soon after Sept. 11, the agency saw a spike in the number of hate crimes and civil rights complaints being filed by members of the Muslim community.
“It’s dropped significantly,” he said.
Visibility has helped as suburban Muslims become more active in the communities where they live, giving to local charities, volunteering on boards and commissions, running for public office and mobilizing on issues that are not ethnocentric.
“We are still a young community,” Sahloul said. “The history of Muslims in America is not more than 30 years or so. The majority is still an immigrant community. We have problems related to integration. We have problems related to image.”
Muslims not the first
The trials the Muslim community has faced since Sept. 11 have certain parallels with the Jewish immigrant experience in America, though not quite so severe, said Michael Balinsky, secretary of the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago and executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis.
“The Muslim community has not faced the same kinds of discrimination,” Balinsky said referring, for example, to a time when Jewish doctors were not allowed to practice at regular hospitals, prompting the creation of Jewish hospitals. “There is genuine anti-Islamic sentiment out in the general community. It’s important the communities know each other and talk to each other.”
Balinsky said while interfaith dialogue is helpful, it’s the interaction of regular folk that makes all the difference.
“Those are really important on a very human level because faces are put to the community,” he said. “The issues become people, and that complicates things in a healthy way.”
One-on-one interactions have gone a long way toward changing perceptions about the community, said Ghulam Farooqie, president of the Islamic Community Center of Des Plaines.
“We were open since the day we established in 1989,” Farooqie said.
Farooqie believes that’s why members of his mosque community did not experience any retaliation or hate crimes after Sept. 11. On that day nearly 10 years ago, a local synagogue and church sent a flower bouquet to the mosque and “told us not to worry,” he said.
Farooqie said after Ramadan, he plans to have an open house at the mosque where members invite their neighbors and friends.
“My message to the people, all the time, is to behave like Muslims, act like Muslims (following) what Islam teaches you. Don’t disturb the neighbors, and talk to them. Have more patience and more tolerance,” he said.
Ramadan, a month of obligatory daily fasting for Muslims begins Monday, Aug. 1. It is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar when the Quran was revealed to Prophet Muhammad.
• Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam prescribed in the Quran as a means for self-purification.
• Muslims begin the daily fast at first light of dawn after having a pre-dawn meal known as “suhur.” Fasting ends at sunset with a special evening meal known as “iftar.”
• During daylight hours, Muslims also are required to abstain from sex, smoking, and other sensual pleasures.
• The elderly, those who are sick or on a journey, and women who are pregnant or nursing are permitted to break the fast and make up days missed later in the year. If physically unable to fast, every Muslim must feed a needy person for every day of fasting missed.
• In special nightly prayers called “Taraweeh,” the entire Quran is recited in mosques each day of the holy month starting today (Sunday).
• Ramadan ends with a day long celebration known as Eid ul-Fitr. This year Eid will fall on Aug. 30 (depending on moon sighting).
• Eid ul-Fitr begins with a special morning prayer attended by men, women and children in their new or best clothes. A special charity, known as Zakat ul-Fitr is given out before the prayer to feed the poor. The day is marked by feasting, visiting relatives and friends, and giving gifts.
Source: Daily Herald research
The Message of Ramadan
Crosspost- The Message of Ramadan
by Khalid Baig
We observe Ramadan every year. The question is, do we listen to it?
Ramadan is the most important month of our calendar. It is a tremendous gift from Allah in so many ways. In our current state of being down and out, it can uplift us, empower us, and turn around our situation–individually and collectively. It is the spring season for the garden of Islam when dry grass can come back to life and flowers bloom. But these benefits are not promised for lifeless and thoughtless rituals alone. They will be ours only if our actions are informed by the message of Ramadan.
Today the message of Ramadan tends to get drowned out by the much louder voices of pop culture and its opposing messages. We have become so accustomed to them that many of us remain enslaved to them even during Ramadan.
The most important message of Ramadan is that we are not just body, but body & soul. Further, what makes us human beings and determines our value as human beings is the soul, and not the body. During Ramadan we deprive the body to uplift the soul. This is all simple and familiar. But we can understand its significance if we remember that the message of the materialistic hedonistic global pop culture that has engulfed every Muslim land today — just like the rest of the world— is exactly the opposite. It says that body is everything, that the materialistic world is all that counts. That the greatest happiness — if not virtue– is in filling the appetites of the body. This message produces endless appetites and consequently endless wars to fill those endless appetites through endless exploitation. It produces endless frustrations since the gap between desires and achievements can never be filled. It produces endless chaos and endless oppression. Yet this trash comes in such beautiful and enticing packages that we can hardly resist it. We equate this slavery with freedom. We consider this march to disaster as progress. And with every movement, we get further and deeper into the mire.
The message of the materialistic hedonistic global pop culture that has engulfed every Muslim land today is exactly the opposite of the message of Ramadan. [Picture: Copyright Roshni Maher]
Ramadan is here to liberate us from all this. Here is a powerful message to remind us to put soul over body. Take a break from the pop culture. Turn off the music and TV. Say goodbye to the endless and futile pursuit of happiness in sensory pleasures. Rediscover your inner self that has been buried deep under it. Reorient yourself. Devote your time to the reading of the Qur’an, to voluntary worship, to prayers and conversations with Allah. Reflect on the direction of your life and your priorities. Reflect on and strengthen your relationship with your Creator
On the last day of one Sha’ban, Prophet Muhammad, gave a Khutbah about the upcoming month of Ramadan. It is a very important Khutbah that we should carefully read before every Ramadan to prepare ourselves mentally for the sacred month. It begins: “Oh people! A great month is coming to you. A blessed month. A month in which there is one night that is better than a thousand months. A month in which Allah has made it compulsory upon you to fast by day, and voluntary to pray by night. Whoever draws nearer to Allah by performing any of the voluntary good deeds in this month shall receive the same reward as is there for performing an obligatory deed at any other time. And whoever discharges an obligatory deed in this month shall receive the reward of performing seventy obligations at any other time. It is the month of Sabr (patience), and the reward for sabr is Heaven. It is the month of kindness and charity. It is a month in which a believer’s sustenance is increased. Whoever gives food to a fasting person to break his fast, shall have his sins forgiven, and he will be saved from the Fire of Hell, and he shall have the same reward as the fasting person, without the latter’s reward being diminished at all.”
The hadith continues and contains many other very important messages. However let us take the time to highlight two of the statements contained above. First, that Ramadan is the month of sabr. The English translation is patience but that word has a very narrow meaning compared to sabr. Sabr means not only patience and perseverance in the face of difficulties, but also means to be steadfast in avoiding sin in the face of temptations and being persistent in performing virtues when that is not easy. Overcoming hunger and thirst during fasting is part of it, but protecting our eyes, ears, minds, tongues, and hands, etc. from all sins is also equally, if not more, important. So is being persistent in doing good deeds as much as possible despite external or internal obstacles. Ramadan requires sabr in its fullest sense and provides a training ground for that very important quality to be developed and nurtured. Here is a recipe for the complete overhaul of our life, not just a small adjustment in meal times.
The highest point of Ramadan is itikaf, an act of worship in which a person secludes himself in a masjid to devote his time entirely to worshipping and remembering Allah. Some in every Muslim community must take a break and go to the masjid for the entire last ten days of Ramadan. Others should imbibe the spirit and do whatever they can.
But we must differentiate between worldly pleasures and worldly responsibilities. We take a break from the former and not the latter. Syedna Abdullah ibn Abbas, Radi-Allahu unhu, was performing itikaf, when a person came and sat down silently. Sensing his distressed condition Ibn Abbas enquired about his situation, learnt that he needed help, and proceeded to leave the masjid to go out and help him. Now this action does nullify the itikaf, making a makeup obligatory. So the person, though grateful, was curious. Explaining his action, Ibn Abbas related a hadith that when a person makes efforts to help his brother, he earns the reward for performing itikaf for ten years.
This brings us to the second statement to consider: that Ramadan is the month of kindness and charity. With those in distress in the millions in the world today, the need for remembering this message of Ramadan cannot be overstated. Unfortunately, today, another scene seems to be dominant in some parts of the Muslim world. Here Ramadan is the month of celebrations, shopping, fancy iftars at posh restaurants, entertainment, and gossip. People stay up at night but not for worship; they while away that time watching TV or wandering in the bazaar.
Ramadan here is more a month of feasting than fasting.
No one can take away our Ramadan from us; we just give it away ourselves. And if we realize the utter blunder we have made, we can take it back.