Happy Ramadan from this Mullica Hill Muslim!
Growing up Muslim in a small suburban town was not always easy. I would get asked many questions about my faith and those questions came up the most during the holy month of Ramadan. And with Ramadan just around the corner, coming up on or around April 12th this year, I thought I would share a little about this holy month and what it means for myself and other Muslims.
Ramadan is the 9th month in the Islamic calendar. Islam uses a lunar calendar, so the months move up every year, which means Ramadan is never the same time every year like Christmas, for example. It is said our holy book, the Quran, was sent to Muslims during the month of Ramadan.
Muslims all around the world fast from sunrise to sunset for a month. Ramadan begins and ends with the sighting of the crescent moon. Muslims must abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and relations from sunrise to sunset, and that can be especially arduous during long and hot summer days. I was always asked things like “you can’t even have water”? Correct, even water is prohibited! Because this can be a challenge, the elderly, young children, anyone sick or with an illness, as well as women menstruating or pregnant, do not need to fast, and some are prohibited from fasting altogether. Islam believes in mercy and not forcing anything on a person that is deemed too difficult or even dangerous to their health.
Muslims everywhere fast each year, and we do it while working and going to school and living our normal lives. It is especially hard in a non-Muslim country since the vast majority of people are not fasting and society does not make changes to the normal, day-to-day, activities to accommodate for fasting. I remember breaking my fast at my desk at work in between meetings or sitting at lunch in school watching my classmates eat when I could not. It is not easy when circumstances around you do not cater to a holy month, but Islam believes that the bigger the test, the bigger the rewards that Allah will give. Allah by the way, is just another name for God in Arabic. I have come across many misconceptions about Islam and that is a big one. We believe in the same God as Christians and Jews and are one of the Abrahamic religions. Muslims call Christians and Jews, people of the book. We have many similarities, and perhaps that can be addressed in another article?
Back to Ramadan, for now. AS I’ve said, it is an incredibly special and holy month where Muslims connect with Allah on a deeper level with prayer and strive to make themselves the best Muslims they can be. Things like gossiping or cursing can break your fast. We believe all good deeds count for even more during Ramadan. It is a time to reflect and read the Quran and spend time with family. Muslims are encouraged to engage in charity and help others whenever possible and this is especially true during Ramadan. Charity is a huge part of Islam and is actually obligatory for all Muslims who can contribute. During Ramadan this charity is called Zakat al Fitr, and it must be made before the month ends.
Muslims begin their Ramadan days early by waking up for suhoor, which is a very early morning meal eaten before a day of fasting. The meal must be eaten before the sun rises. Iftar, which is the time to ‘break fast’, always involves an elaborate meal. Many families have their own traditions on what meals they break their fast with or what to eat on the very first day of Ramadan. For example, it is encouraged to follow the habits of our Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), and one of those is to break your fast with a date. I would guess most Muslim households have a box of dates on hand for the month of Ramadan. I do my best to make my best Syrian dishes! Inviting people over to ‘break fast’ or have Iftar together is also a special part of Ramadan. Muslims pray five times a day and when it is time for Maghrib (or the sunset prayer), that is when Muslims can break their fast. It is the best feeling to know that you can enjoy a delicious meal after a long day of fasting. Some major lessons of fasting are patience, self-control and the ability to feel what the less fortunate go through. It is hard to fast without thinking about those who are not as fortunate and have no food or water to break their fast with. After breaking their fast, many Muslims go to their local mosque (house of prayer), to pray Taraweeh, which is a special prayer made during the nights of Ramadan.
To get children in the Ramadan spirit, many families decorate their homes with lanterns, moons and minarets. The moon is a popular decoration because the sighting of the moon is a big part of Ramadan. In Muslim countries, it is also traditional to light the streets with beautiful lanterns during Ramadan. This is similar to seeing people’s homes here lit up during the Christmas season. Minarets are the long structures on mosques where the call to prayer is made.
After a month of fasting, Muslims celebrate a 3-day holiday called Eid Al Fitr, which translates to the ‘holiday of breaking fast’. This also happens with the sighting of the new moon. Children get presents, we wear new clothes and our best outfits, and go to the mosque for holiday prayer, followed by lots of food to celebrate! It is a wonderful time spent with friends and family. We make sure to make Eid a special time for our two girls and to remind them that we have special holidays too. I can speak for many Muslims when I say that one of the biggest challenges to raising Muslim kids in America, is showing them that our holidays matter too and can be just as great as Christmas! We decorate our house and make sure the girls wake up to presents and a special breakfast. I like to use my Eid cookie cutters to make fun cookies and pancakes for the girls, followed by fun with friends and family. My girls also love our Curious George book that is all about Ramadan and Eid.
I always appreciated the curiosity and interest about my religion and our holidays. Christmas is the dominant holiday in this country and there is a good knowledge about Hanukkah. But, honestly, I have also wondered why there is hardly any talk of Ramadan, especially since Islam is the 2nd largest religion in the world and the fastest growing faith? I do think we have a long way to go regarding opening our minds and hearts to others, but I also see positive change. I even know of towns where the schools recognize Eid as a holiday and close! I want my daughters to be confident to go to school in our beautiful town as Muslims and to be proud of their differences. I am grateful to be part of the IDEA Board and to be involved in a group promoting inclusion and diversity. We know several Muslim families in town, and I wanted the rest of our Mullica Hill families to know a little more about us and Ramadan.
During this month, I hope you keep your Muslim neighbors and friends in mind. I invite your children and our educators to reach out to their fellow classmates and students who are participating in sports and taking exams while fasting. And, maybe you can even join us for an Iftar, IF we are COVID-safe by then.