246: Ramadan begins for a billion of us — neighbors devoted to prayer, fasting

an you feel it in the air?
    A major portion of the world — a billion of our neighbors — are spiritually on the move this month. Their faith calls on them to devote this entire month to prayer and fasting and kindness toward everyone they meet. And, in the end, the month is supposed to draw people closer to God and to compassionate concern for the world’s neediest men, women and children.
    If you’re not Muslim, this is a wonderful time to wish your Muslim friend, neighbor or co-worker well during the next four weeks. Keep an eye out for colleagues who may be trying to fast right through a challenging day at school or work. Lend a friendly word of encouragement — and ask a question, if you’re curious. I have spent more than two decades visiting Muslims around the world and I have yet to meet a Muslim who wasn’t gracious in responding to sincere questions.

    As Americans, we don’t live in a majority-Muslim country, so it may be hard to appreciate all the cultural excitement humming around the globe as the month of fasting begins today.
    For example, if you live in a Muslim country, among other things, this is the month when all the cool new TV shows debut — especially daytime TV shows — because network executives know that, in this month, work slows down for many people. They spend more time at home with family and friends and, yes, that often means someone flips on the TV set.
    But there’s so much more than TV in Ramadan!

    TODAY, ReadTheSpirit debuts a first-ever, month-long salute to Ramadan — featuring dozens of Muslims who are telling their own uplifting stories. It’s called www.SharingRamadan.info and throughout this month of fasting, you’ll find fresh, inviting stories and photos every day.

    Muslims already rank among the world’s most effective Web users and Web-site designers. In fact, five of the most-popular religious Web sites in the world are produced by Muslims. Among Christian denominations, only the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints places in that list of top-10 Web sites. (Nope, not even the Vatican’s big Web site ranks in the Top 10.)
    So, Muslims don’t need ReadTheSpirit to tell them about Ramadan. What is unique about this online project, though, is that this month-long series of stories is much like a “Guideposts-style series,” a phrase familiar to millions of American readers. These are stories from Muslims themselves, shared to brighten your day and open new windows into the Islamic world for non-Muslims — as well as the many Muslim readers who will enjoy the series.
    This is a window into Ramadan that’s half Guideposts and half StoryCorps (the NPR story-telling series). That’s a new idea in spiritual media.

    PLUS: We jointly produced this series as a professional experiment in cross-cultural journalism. Two journalists of a Christian background, myself and ReadTheSpirit intern Thomas Gilchrist, helped Muslims to produce half of the stories. And, a journalist of Muslim background, Raad Alawan, also helped Muslims to produce stories. All of us took photographs.
    That deliberately cross-cultural approach to writing about everyday life in Islam is new, as well.
    (Beyond simply sharing uplifting stories each day — we’re involved in empowering writers from many different faith traditions just as we’ve done in the past with the Christian season of Lent and the Jewish season of Passover. Encouraging new directions in spiritual media is a core value at ReadTheSpirit.)
    Please, we invite you to enjoy this series with us. You can bookmark http://www.SharingRamadan.info/ Or, if you’re a regular visitor to ReadTheSpirit — we’ve added an easy-navigation tab at the top of our page and you can click over to the Ramadan site during your daily visit to our site, if that’s easier.


    Throughout the month, we’re going to tell you about various interfaith events and opportunities to actually go somewhere in person and visit a sacred site, attend an interfaith conference or participate in some other religiously diverse event.
    Because ReadTheSpirit’s Home Office is situated west of Detroit — not far from one of the most famous Muslim communities outside Asia: Dearborn, Michigan — we’ll naturally tend to have more Michigan content than from other parts of the world this month.
    But we’ve been told by Muslim readers in other parts of the U.S. and other parts of the world that they plan to drop in and share thoughts, stories and news during September. So, stay tuned!
    Soon, we also will be telling you about the Interfaith Passport program we’re launching this month to encourage cross-cultural visits throughout the coming year. That’s another exciting innovation we’re sharing with you this fall.

    BUT, HERE’S AN EXCELLENT EXAMPLE of the kind of program you’ll find unfolding in many places across the U.S. these days. It’s called “Building Islam in Detroit,” a traveling exhibition of colorful photographs and short, educational texts explaining how one of America’s most famous Muslim communities was born and evolved over time.

    I invited Sally Howell of the University of Michigan Program in American Culture, one of the coordinators of this traveling exhibition, to share a few words with you today. Here’s what she wants to tell you:

    I want to invite readers to visit an exhibit entitled, “Building Islam in Detroit: Foundations Forms Futures.” For anyone who is curious about Detroit’s thriving Muslim communities, this exhibit provides a great introduction to the history of local Muslims and to the 50-plus mosques they have built in this area.
    What are mosques? What takes place inside them? How are they like other houses of worship? What makes them unique? The exhibit answers these questions, while also highlighting the art and design elements that are equally a part of mosque construction and development. And, for a completely unique experience, the exhibit is being hosted by the Muslim Center of Detroit, a large and thriving mosque in the heart of the City. This gives you the chance to visit one particular mosque and all of Detroit’s mosques simultaneously!
    Muslim visitors are just as likely to be impressed by the exhibit as are non-Muslims. No matter your background, I am sure you will find much that is familiar in this exhibit, but also much that is new, perhaps even surprising — new faces, long forgotten histories, and the remarkable diversity of Islamic expression in Detroit.
    “Building Islam in Detroit” brings together the work of researchers and photographers to document and explore the growth of mosques and Muslim communities in greater Detroit over the last century. We hope this exhibit will help you appreciate the historical richness, diversity, and influence of Islam in Detroit. Shaped by experiences of discrimination and opportunity, struggle and accomplishment, the building projects on display here are the groundwork of a Muslim American future.

    VISIT SharingRamadan.info! You’ll enjoy the stories, day by day. They are designed as an ongoing conversation between friends: a Muslim neighbor sharing his or her story each day — with you.
    WANT TO VISIT THE UofM EXHIBIT? We realize that most of our readers do not live in Michigan. So, FIRST, you can visit the exhibit online. If you’ll be in Michigan in early September, the exhibit will be displayed at the Muslim Center of Detroit, 1605 Davison West, Detroit, MI 48238.
    OUR PHOTOS TODAY: Two of the photos today show details from the UofM exhibition. Three of the photos show some of the men, women and young people you’ll meet this month at SharingRamadan.info

    While there will be lots of fun things to read in September at SharingRamadan.info, ReadTheSpirit will be an exciting place, as well. This week, we’re exploring the spiritual question: “How different do ‘we’ look?” It’s a challenge to appreciate the growing diversity of our communities. So, on Wednesday our Conversation With Brother Chidananda will explore one group within the Hindu tradition working to build bridges between the teachings of Hinduism and Jesus. On Thursday, we’ll take an entirely fresh look at this question — sharing the work of an innovative writer whose focus is “faith and aging.”
    Stay tuned! By the end of this month, we’ll be sharing some remarkable Jewish voices as the Jewish High Holy Days begin.

Click on the “Comment” link below or you always can Email ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm directly.

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