497: In Ramadan, look kindly toward neighbors … and you might learn a lot!

What does Ramadan feel like spiritually?
    For most Americans, Islam seems exotic, intriguing—and perhaps even a little scary, especially if you’ve seen too many frightening TV shows marred by Muslim stereotypes. Overwhelmingly, Americans still identify themselves in public as Christian, so most of us know very little about the
inner wisdom and beautiful traditions of Islam.

    Nevertheless, because America is becoming more diverse all the time, most of us have at least one Muslim friend, colleague, neighbor—or perhaps a doctor or some other professional who has served us over the years. We’re curious about this faith shared by 1 billion people.
    So, today, we’re publishing the first of two Introductions to Ramadan, geared especially toward non-Muslims. The first is by journalist Raad Alawan, who produced many of the Ramadan profiles we will publish this year during the fasting month. The second, which we’ll publish on Thursday, is from the book “The Beauty of Ramadan,” by writer
and Muslim teacher Najah Bazzy. (You can buy a copy of her book by clicking on the Amazon link at right.)
    AND—please, visit our special section, Sharing Ramadan, which will showcase stories of American Muslim life as Ramadan starts on Friday.


By Raad Alawan

You can learn a lot about a person by discovering what he or she values—their take on faith and the similarities they share with other faiths. Or you can learn about them by feasting with neighbors on savory chicken, rice, chickpeas and yogurt, and other delights. Remember that, after the daily fasting is done, meals with family and friends are glorious during this special month.
    Either way—sharing a talk about values or sharing a feast—August and September is not a bad time to get to know your Muslim neighbors.
    The Sharing Ramadan project began in the summer of 2008, when ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm and I committed ourselves to produce this event for the month-long season celebrated by 1 billion-plus Muslims worldwide.
    The response was so overwhelmingly positive from last year’s pioneering project, we decided to do it again. My publication, Your Community Voice based in Dearborn, Michigan, decided to continue publishing stories this month in a return of the Sharing Ramadan project along with ReadTheSpirit.
    The heart of this project is real people who are sharing with us the most precious thing in their lives—their personal stories of faith and hope during Ramadan, one of the five pillars of their faith. Sharing Ramadan is especially important because it gives Muslims an opportunity to share their faith and fast with non-Muslims.
    This is a major commitment for Muslims living in the U.S. In a mostly Muslim country, celebrating Ramadan is relative easy because everyone is fasting from sunrise to sunset. But in the U.S., most people are not Muslim and, of course, they go right on eating all day long. Muslims are tempted by TV commercials, the scent of restaurants and bakeries—and the sight of tempting food and beverages around schools and offices throughout the day.
    But, don’t get the idea that this is a sad time of year. On the contrary, consider the amazing scenes that unfold in communities like the heavily Muslim neighborhoods in Dearborn, Michigan. As the sun sets each night, starting on August 21, the city’s streets grow quiet as thousands of Muslims are inside homes breaking the fast together.
    Then, after about 9:30 each night, the city of Dearborn looks and feels like Mecca during hajj season as thousands of faithful spread out among the local mosques to observe their nightly prayers.
    It’s staggering, really, to contemplate how many thousands of Muslims citywide come together every night for the simple and pure purpose of prayer in Ramadan.
    It’s a powerful few hours, when it’s easy to remember the real spirit of the month is to humble oneself in prayer and charitable acts, and learn patience, self-discipline, and compassion for those who do without basic needs year-round.
    This is a powerful theme that members of other faiths can appreciate. Jesus thought fasting was good for the soul. So do Jews, who fast on Yom Kipper; and Catholics who fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. My point? We’re more unified than it may seem sometimes. And isn’t that what we all seek in life?


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    (Originally published at https://readthespirit.com/)

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