160: Surprising Possibilities of Sharing Ramadan with Our Muslim Neighbors

Prayers_in_ramadan
    Today, ReadTheSpirit is proud to announce the launch of a new kind of grassroots, online celebration of Ramadan in 2008! We’re inviting Muslim men, women and young people to share the rich stories of their everyday experiences in this sacred month with other Muslims — and with the rest of the world as well.
    Most non-Muslims know little about Ramadan, except that it’s a month-long fast for the world’s 1 billion Muslims from dawn to dusk each day. This sacred lunar month celebrates the gift of the Quran, Islam’s scriptures, and calls on Muslims to peacefully reflect on their lives and especially on the plight of the needy around the world.
    The practices surrounding Ramadan combine many of the rich cultural traditions that often are associated with Christian observances of Lent, Easter, Christmas and the American holiday of Thanksgiving.

    Starting now, we’re opening a special new Web portal — SharingRamadan — where Muslims can contribute to a collection of Ramadan stories that we will compile and publish in September. We’re forming a Muslim panel of men and women who will help us evaluate the various stories and choose the best array to share with the world.
    ReadTheSpirit publisher John Hile and I spent an evening in Dearborn last week to give a first group of Muslim men, women and young people a look at the new site. Today, we’re inviting you, too, to take a look and Email us with your thoughts, comments and suggestions. Plus, if you’re Muslim and have something to share, you can start — right now — contributing stories and story ideas to this big effort.
    Take a look at SharingRamadan for a whole host of suggestions we’ve made about what kinds of things you could send our way.
    We’re just starting this effort. Keep watching the “news feed” on that new Web page for updates on the project.

    (Please note: Our Christian readers should plan ahead, because we plan to launch a similar Advent/Christmas project later this year. We’ve been marking major Jewish seasons, as well, including our recent Passover series and we welcome reflections on other faiths and holidays, too.
    (One way we honor religious observances is via our Monday-morning ReadTheSpirit Planner, a free Email newsletter we send to people who request it. You can cancel the Planner any time you wish. If you’d like to receive the Monday newsletter, which includes news items on religious holidays — send us an Email marked “Send me the Planner.”)

If you’re not Muslim, you may be asking: What’s so fascinating about a fast?
    In a word: Lots!

Shopping_in_dahka_for_supper    I’ve spent more than 30 years as a journalist and more than 20 of those years were devoted to reporting on faith in the U.S. and occasionally in other parts of the world. I took the photo at left in Bangladesh at a market where a man was shopping for a family dinner. (I took the next photo at a mosque, during night prayers, in Indonesia.)
    I’ve seen, first hand, the wonderful richness and inspiring values that emerge when Ramadan is celebrated at its best.
    In fact, I’ve often tried to convey to non-Muslims how diverse and remarkable a month this is, each year. One way I’ve done that is by collecting surprising little clippings I’ve enjoyed reading about religious observances.
    Here are a few Ramadan tidbits you may find enjoyable and inspiring:

    The Date Frappuccino!
    I saved this news story, last year, because it illustrates the global economic importance of this cultural observance.
    Muslims often break their daily fast with a bite of date, a tradition that stretches back to the founding of Islam. To honor that custom (and perhaps to cash in on it just a little bit), Starbucks across the Middle East produced a trademarked Date Frappuccino for Ramadan 2007.
    The recipe includes date juice mixed with the coffee, then an extra drizzle of date syrup is added over the top of the drink.
    Mmmmm. Sounds great to me.

    Favorite Muslim Foods around Jerusalem
    I clipped the next story because it illustrates the cultural diversity of Muslims, even in different corners of the Arab world.
    The Jerusalem Post, last year, surveyed shops and restaurants frequented by Muslim families to find the most popular pastry during Ramadan.
    No. 1 among all the choices in the Holy City was Katayef, which the Post described as “deep-fried dough pockets with nut or cheese fillings.” I’ve also seen these described in cookbooks as Lebanese Walnut Pancakes. The essence of the recipe in much of the Arab world is a cheesy-walnut filling flavored with a complex mingling of orange, lemon, pistachio and rose water. But there are as many Katayef recipes as their are Muslim communities around the world.
    In Egypt, they’re sometimes served with a sprinkling of sugar, but no filling at all. I can’t imagine that recipe ranks No. 1 in Cairo.

Night_prayers_in_an_indonesian_mosq
    But It’s Not About the Food, After All!

    The heart and soul of Ramadan isn’t the food — it’s the celebration of community and family and the core values of the faith. Above all else, Muslims are encouraged to think of their hunger during the daylight hours as an avenue toward solidarity with poor people around the world. So, Muslim leaders in every community try to think of ways to encourage this spiritual connection — and to raise extra contributions for the poor.
    Among the unusual fund-raisers last year was a Ramadan golf tournament in Pakistan, for instance.
    But a far more typical fund-raising appeal spread out across the Muslim communities in the UK. The Birmingham Mail newspaper reported on that last year. It involved 5,000 “Penny Boxes” given to thousands of children to contribute a penny a day to help the poor.
    Better than that — and borrowing an idea from Christian neighbors, according to the Mail’s story — was a clever Ramadan calendar for children, much like the cardboard Advent calendars opened by Christian children during the Christmas season.
    According to the Mail: Each window of the Ramadan calendar contains a fact about Islam or an action children can take to help the world. One says, “Did you know more than 1 billion people live on less than 50p a day, which is the cost of a bar of chocolate?”

    Drummers at Dawn
    Best of all, I love the Ramadan stories from Muslim countries that evoke the early-morning excitement that millions feel as they arise in the dark and share a meal before dawn.
    In some countries, drummers pass through the street, often wearing colorful garb, to remind the entire community that the sun is rising — and everyone should be spiritually prepared!

    There are so many wonderful stories — so much we can learn from each other.
    Help us celebrate — and make our global community a stronger, healthier place.

    Tell us what you think. You always can click on the “Comment” links at the end of our online stories. Or you can email us directly at ReadTheSpirit.

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