What Ramadan Means

What does Ramadan look like in America?

If you drive down Route 7 in Falls Church around sunset and after dusk, you know that Muslims are up to something. Traffic comes to a standstill, and the streets of the global village are filled with pedestrians heading to a time-honored tradition of breaking the fast and offering prayers in the mosque.

It’s Ramadan in America.

Growing up an Episcopalian in Brooklyn, I was familiar with fasting in Lent and Yom Kippur. But in 1982 I accepted Islam. While working a summer job on a juice delivery truck, I would discover the realities of my new religion during Ramadan in one of the hottest summers in New York history, 1983. The last time Ramadan was in August was 33 years ago.

The Quran teaches in Surah 2:183:

O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you (Jews, Christians and others), that you acquire Taqwaa (a faithful and conscious connection with God).

The fast consists of abstaining from food, drink and the feeding of one’s passion from dawn until sunset. The Islamic lunar calendar moves 11 days earlier every year.

Ramadan Iftar (the nightly breaking of the fast) is like having Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner every night for 30 days. My mosque, Dar Al-Hijrah, hosts a free public dinner every night, feeding more than 800 people. It is a time you feel empathy for the hungry. You tame your appetite for this world and to feed your spirit from prayer and the nightly reading of the scriptures in the mosque or at home. It is a time of seeking forgiveness from those whom you have wronged and after the month is completed to start anew, forgiven.

Yet Ramadan has deeper spiritual dimensions of compassion, self-sacrifice and introspection. The eyes must fast from the occasional inappropriate look, the heart from the feelings of ill will, racism, sexism and class. No road rage or passionate lying. It is a time of soul-training and of great charity.

President Obama shared in his annual Ramadan greeting:

“Families and communities share the happiness of gathering together for iftar and prayers … in the United States, Muslim Americans share Ramadan traditions with their neighbors, fellow students, and co-workers.”

One of my former students shared at a campus iftar, “You know it’s Ramadan when your mother cooks dinner every night.” So fast, pray and invite a friend over for a bowl of Haira.

“Ramadan Mubarak,” have a blessed Ramadan.

Imam Johari Abdul-Malik is the Director of Outreach at the Dar Al-Hijrah Community Center in Falls Church.

Image via rana ossama.

  • latifazi

    Imam Johari,

    Thank you for such a simple and clean perspective on the rituals and understandings of Ramadan. I find the different perspectives interesting regarding the break-fast. In contrast to the experience of your students’ mother, it is actually the only time of the year that I do not cook. Off to the Masjid everyday in communion with my children and other believers is a vacation from the kitchen.

    You mentioned that 800 people come out at night to break-fast. Wow that’s a big number. Do you have an idea about how many of them are homeless or otherwise in need of a meal and how many come to just be in communion? I only ask because being a little fearless, opportunistic and overzealous, last year I picked up a vagrant and brought him with me to the Masjid. When we arrived it did not seem that we were prepared socially for this invitation. When I introduced him, some, if not all of the Muslims present gave him salaams and then kind of went back to whatever they were doing.

    Do you keep account of which you are reaching and have a welcoming committee to make sure that guests are comfortable in a new environment even if they are from the most challenging environments? Do you do outreach to inform transient populations that the doors are open during this month? Just wondering?

    Also I think of the Quran as a book of keys. Each day, as I read the balance of the Quran in a 30th part or juz during Ramadan, I try to reflect on what opportunities for growth are manifest in my life in and outside of the physical book. Using my 5 plus senses to read the Ayahs of life, I find it to be a very spiritual time. What is most interesting to me is that each Ramadan is like a snow flake; all though from the outside they all look alike each seems to have a unique print, vastly different from the last.

    Last Ramadan, I remember waking up in the Masjid after falling asleep during the Taweer prayers as 1/30 of the Quran was recited in Arabic, feeling a majestic and celestial sensatio

  • Anonymous