Ramadan Mubarak: Faith through Fasting
Ramadan is a religious holiday, marked by a month of fasting, observed by millions of Muslims worldwide. It is an opportunity for the observant to show gratitude for their blessings while also providing service to the poor and donating to charity. In this time, to show commitment to faith, how do Muslims in the United States respond to the increasing number of physical and verbal attacks? There are 3.45 million Muslims in the U.S. In the face of Islamophobia, xenophobia, and demagogic vitriol, Ramadan can be an opportunity to reclaim the narrative of what the Muslim faith is and what it means for those who observe.
Ramadan is a commemoration of the first revelation of the Qur’an to the prophet Muhammad. It is signaled by the crescent moon. Hilal is a day or more after the new moon, which began on May 15th. For Ramadan, Muslims are asked for fast from dawn to sunset. While they can eat a pre-dawn meal, suhur, they are prohibited from eating food and drinking water until sunset. They also are called to refrain from smoking and other vices. In this period, Muslims meditate on the blessings they have received, focus on how to get closer to Allah through increased prayer, and devote their efforts to charity and doing good deeds. Because they cannot have food or water there are times they can be exempted from fasting. The elderly, pregnant women, menstruating women, and those with medical conditions, are exempt from fasting but can still participate in the other aspects of Ramadan. Each day at sunset, participants can break the fast, which is known as iftar. Iftar dinners are usually a time for fellowship and family and can often be big elaborate dinners. Laylat al-Qadr, the night of power, is a night recognized within the last ten days of Ramadan and is celebrated on an odd-numbered day. The night of power is the holiest day of the year and is revered as the night that the first revelation of the Qur’an was revealed to Muhammad. The end of Ramadan is known as Eid al-Fitr, where Muslims pay money to the poor and to the charity, perform prayers and end their fast with large feasts. Ramadan will be a period where Muslims will get closer to their faith and thank Allah for the blessings in their lives.
I remember the days following September 11, 2001. The country was in a panic reaching for answers for an event that they couldn’t explain. The easiest thing to do it seemed was to point the finger and group all Arabic presenting Muslims together and label them terrorists. The period that followed was punctuated by attacks on Muslims and even individuals who were perceived as Muslims. General widespread panic in times where national security is threatened isn’t new. After Pearl Harbor President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 which relocated thousands of Japanese and Japanese Americans to internment camps for fear of espionage. When there is a perceived threat, people let fear get the best of their judgment, of their better nature. Internationally, Muslims face discrimination, with a Danish lawmaker as recently as last week stating that Muslims fasting for Ramadan could pose a danger. “I want to call on Muslims to take leave from work during the month of Ramadan to avoid negative consequences for the rest of Danish society,” Danish integration minister Inger Stoejberg argued that Muslims engaged in jobs like driving buses could put people at risk due to fasting.
Now of course Ramadan has been celebrated for quite some time, generations in fact, so this concern is a little absurd and speaks to the intensifying trend of Islamophobia. How should Muslims respond to these kinds of statements? Well, by celebrating as they always have. Ramadan is a time to reflect on one’s faith through self-discipline and providing for those less fortunate through service and charity. Though this time should not be used to politicize Islam it can be used to educate others about the Five Pillars and the commitment that is shared by millions of people. By learning about each other we can do more to increase tolerance especially in these hostile times. Here’s an excellent article from CNN on how to engage with Muslims during Ramadan. What we can do is to be encouraged to have conversations with friends about what Ramadan means to them and if there is anything you can do to support them in their observance.