5 Ramadan surprises: UK is teaching us about kindness in a long hot fast

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series 5 Ramadan Surprises
A little girl peers through a doorway into the night prayers at a mosque in Indonesia. Photo by David Crumm.

A little girl peers through a doorway into the night prayers at a mosque in Indonesia. Photo by David Crumm.

From Dr. Wayne Baker: This week, we welcome Read the Spirit Editor David Crumm, a longtime specialist in writing about world religions, reporting on 5 things that may surprise you about Ramadan. Today through Friday, David will publish 5 columns that can help us to build healthier, happier communities—if we share them with friends.
Here is David’s first column …

FIFTEEN HOT HOURS. Without even a drop of water.

That’s the huge challenge for Muslim families this year. The Islamic calendar “moves forward” a couple of weeks, each year, so this fasting month will be the longest and hottest in decades. (Read more in Stephanie Fenton’s complete Ramadan story.)

As Dr. Baker has reported, social scientists studying global culture have concluded that America’s No. 1 character strength is: Kindness. This week is an ideal opportunity for all of us to express our kindness—the all-American spirit of caring—by greeting our Muslim neighbors. You can do it today by adding your own “Happy Ramadan” note in the comment area, below.

But, do you know what tends to happen when Ramadan arrives each year? Once again, we will see some friction from non-Muslims complaining about the occasional Ramadan greetings via TV, radio and newspapers.

How the UK’s Channel 4 is practicing Ramadan hospitality

In truth, the brief Ramadan greetings in American news media are few and far between compared with Christmas greetings—so they don’t stir much public resistance. But, in the UK this summer, a controversy is brewing among right-wing political groups and Britain’s famous Channel 4. In 2003, Parliament updated laws governing British television—including a clear mandate to Channel 4 to try innovative projects, especially in welcoming the UK’s ever-increasing cultural diversity.

This year, as Ramadan begins, Channel 4 will interrupt scheduled programming—very, very early in the morning—to remind Muslims to get up and prepare for the sunrise and the long fast that is about to start. Plus, Channel 4 will offer more daily reminders and prayer broadcasts on its website.

Rashid Khan

Rashid Khan

Even more exiting—from our point of view at Read the Spirit (although condemned by British right wingers)—is a special month-long programming emphasis: 4RAMADAN. Channel 4 still will carry its regular lineup of hit TV series, but this special effort adds new online resources for understanding Ramadan as well as some fascinating new TV programs. One TV show features a former professional rugby player turned award-winning documentary filmmaker, Rashid Khan, who traveled the width and breadth of Britain, reporting on the significance of the fasting month in various communities. I love the title for his show: A Very British Ramadan.

Please: Show how truly kind we are—right now—by doing three things: First, click one of the blue-“f” Facebook icons and “Like” this column to signal to your friends that you’re a welcoming person as Ramadan begins. Second, if you’ve got a Muslim relative, friend or colleague, click on the little envelope-shaped icon and email this column to them with a hearty: “Happy Ramadan.” (Or, if you want to get fancy, email “Ramadan Mubarak,” which means “Blessed Ramadan.”) And third, take just a moment and type a few words of Ramadan greeting in the Comment section below.

I know that many readers are eager to check out the Channel 4 offerings. So, we’ve got a short Channel 4 promo video, below. Click on the screen to view it. (Don’t see a screen in your version of this story? Try clicking on the headline of this column and reloading it in your browser.)


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small The Beauty of Ramadan by Najah BazzyCare for more on Ramadan?

THE HOLIDAY: Stephanie Fenton has a complete holiday story, packed with links to news from around the world and even some delicious Ramadan recipes, as well.

THE FOODS:  As you will learn in future Our Values columns this week, Ramadan is as much about thankful appreciation for favorite foods as it is about the fast itself. Think of Ramadan, perhaps, as four weeks of nightly Thanksgiving meals. Care to taste what many Muslim families will enjoy at iftar? Feed the Spirit columnist Bobbie Lewis is beginning a two-part column on favorite Ramadan recipes from an Afghani-American family. Her first column includes a recipe for a wonderfully spicy-and-savory vegetarian stuffed flat bread.

THE BOOK: Read the Spirit publishes The Book to read about Ramadan: Najah Bazzy’s  The Beauty of Ramadan.

5 Ramadan Surprises: Canadian Give 30 is an easy, powerful lesson for all

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series 5 Ramadan Surprises
Canadan charity effort for Ramadan GIVE 30 logoFrom Dr. Baker: This week, welcome Read the Spirit Editor David Crumm, reporting on 5 things that may surprise you about Ramadan.
Here is David’s second column …

COFFEE CHANGE.
And Ramadan.

That’s the simple idea behind a Canadian Ramadan campaign that is raising money for hungry people in the Toronto area. Muslims aren’t eating during the day. So, please, toss your daily coffee money into a jar for GIVE 30, which is donated to Toronto’s main food bank.

In one month of fasting? Your coffee change should total at least $30, says founder Ziyaad Mia. “Last I checked, you couldn’t even get a Tim Horton’s coffee for $1.”

Here’s what I love about GIVE 30:

  • It’s Canadian—reminding us that, no, Americans don’t have all the pioneering ideas for grassroots campaigns.
  • It’s Muslim good news—and that’s a great antidote to all the news stories we see about conflict in predominantly Muslim countries.
  • It’s a clever way to kick start your conscience—because your mind starts rolling on all the money we so easily blow in the course of a typical day. If Mia thinks $1 is cheap for coffee—just consider some of those fancy drinks millions of us order from gourmet cafes. Just start thinking about the principles behind Give 30—and your conscience soon is pushing you to give much more.

It’s a surprising perspective on Ramadan, since most news media are reporting on the difficulty of the fast itself—as we do this week in Stephanie Fenton’s Ramadan column. And, when we’ve covered the fast—we report on the family feasting that happens most nights of Ramadan, as we do this week in Bobbie Lewis’s Feed the Spirit column (with a delicious Afghani-American recipe). Instead, Ziyaad Mia is pushing us to report on the widespread charity that flows from Muslim individuals, families and communities at this time of year.

“Ramadan is a time for giving. It’s a time of heightened charity. It’s a spiritual boot camp each year, but it’s also a charitable boot camp,” Mia explains.

GIVE 30 properly focuses all of us on the truly needy in our midst: homeless people, impoverished people and the countless working poor who have trouble feeding their families. In the Toronto area, an elaborate food bank meets widespread needs everyday. Where should our hearts focus during Ramadan? Like a wise Muslim sage of old, Mia is teaching all of us a deep lesson about Ramadan.

As Mia puts it: “Ramadan is all about hunger and feeling our empathy with people who do not have as much. That’s the point. So, why don’t we actually go out and help people who need help in finding food for their families.”

Researching GIVE 30, I ran across the following YouTube video of an interview with Mia that you may care to watch; or, if you don’t have time for that—at least tell a friend about this Our Values series. Wish your Muslim neighbors a “Blessed Ramadan” (“Ramadan Mubarak!”) or tell non-Muslim friends to read along with you, this week, to help break down stereotypes. Click a blue-“f” Facebook icon and “Like” this column or use the little envelope icon to email this to friends.

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5 Ramadan Surprises: How about a nice cold glass of camel’s milk?

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series 5 Ramadan Surprises
Camelicious is the brand name of the new camel's milk product line from the Middle East's first scientifically designed camel dairy—headed to European markets.

Camelicious is the brand name of the new camel’s milk product line from the Middle East’s first scientifically designed camel dairy—headed to European markets.

Camel’s milk?

As Ramadan begins this year, headlines are popping up across the Internet about this very healthy and, by all accounts, tasty milk. Until this week, the most popular recent headline concerned an Abu Dhabi hotel chef developing yummy camel’s milk drinks—basically milk shakes—as a way to end the fast after the sun goes down. One glass packs plenty of energy, protein and vitamins in a delicious form! (Here’s a New York Daily News version of the story.)

What’s behind that quirky recipe story is more surprising: Camel’s milk suddenly is making a splash in the Middle East, in Europe and in India, too. The Indian news isn’t related to Ramadan, but it is a sign of the rise in international campaigns to take camel-dairy-farming seriously. Indian journalists are reminding readers that Gandhi himself loved a good glass of camel’s milk. In many decades of reporting on world religions, I’ve somehow missed that detail in Gandhi’s life—but, hey, Indian reporters are spreading that claim this month. Must be true, right?

The big news, though, is a new Middle-East-to-Europe flow—not a new oil pipeline, but a camel milk production line! For the first time, a United Arab Emirates camel dairy has established an approved market in Europe. This news story has been a decade in the making! Back in 2003, the Emirates Industry for Camel Milk & Products was formed and, by 2006, the “world’s first sophisticated camel milking plant, incorporating state-of-the-art technology and camel research” was completed.

Camels are producing milk in new commercial programsThis is a long-shot commercial campaign. Most global markets have forbidden the commercial sale of camel’s milk for many years. U.S. laws prevented marketing this milk until 2009. Even in 2013, there are very few camels milked on American soil. Why? It’s hard and it’s expensive! Camels are bigger and ornerier than cows. They take longer to mature into milk producers. They’re harder to buy, breed and maintain—especially with no clear market for their dairy products.

Lots of health claims are made about this milk. Around the world in arid climates, camel-culture nomadic people are supposedly able to survive on nothing but camel’s milk for many weeks at a time. Wikipedia reports that “camel milk is rich in vitamins, minerals, proteins, and immunoglobulins; compared to cow’s milk, it is lower in fat and lactose, and higher in potassium, iron, and vitamin C.”  You can find similar claims at many emerging camel-dairy websites across the Internet.

Camels are coming to America! In recent weeks, a camel-dairy farmer touched off a buzz in the Lancaster, Pennsylvania, area—that’s right, the Amish farming heartland.

I love this surprising Ramadan story because it focuses on the widespread and longstanding Muslim interest on health. Given the harsh regions that many Muslims call home around planet Earth, this concern for healthful living can be described as an Islamic tradition.

Come on, help us dispel stereotypes this week! Share this story with friends. Click the blue-“f” icon and “Like” this story on Facebook. Or use the little envelope icon and email to friends. Remember to wish Muslim neighbors “Ramadan mubarak!” (“Blessed Ramadan!“)

5 Ramadan Surprises: Quran readers are a lot like Bible readers

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series 5 Ramadan Surprises
Holy Quran open by photographer Habib M'henni via Wikimedia Commons

HOLY QURAN. Photograph by Habib M’henni, released for public use via Wikimedia Commons.

From Dr. Baker: This week, Read the Spirit Editor David Crumm reports on 5 things that may surprise you about Ramadan.

The Quran plays a central role in Ramadan. Muslim tradition holds that God chose to reveal the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad during Ramadan. The entire reception of the Quran is a long and dramatic story that Wikipedia outlines. To this day, listening to the Quran is one of the most beloved Ramadan traditions around the world. Major Muslim centers invite talented orators to recite passages from memory.

This summer, we also are seeing news headlines—specifically, now, headlines from Egypt—pointing out that 6 out of 10 Muslims think Egypt’s government should be based on the Quran. According to Pew polling reports, an even higher percentage of Egyptians say that religious leaders should have some influence in their government. In some stories, these data are presented as scary signs.

But, are they alarming? Or are they much like religious reverence in America?

Turns out, more than 9 out of 10 American evangelicals think that the Bible should be the basis of our government policies. And, it’s a well-known assumption in American politics that a candidate for public office had better claim some faith in God—or the candidate will face an up-hill battle to attract voters. That’s why presidents since Franklin D. Roosevelt regularly repeat, “God bless, America.” The famous Irving Berlin song by that title became an official campaign song for FDR in 1940.

We Americans love our scriptures and hold them up as the highest standards of truth and justice—whether we read and understand them, or not.

Polls over many years show that half of Americans can’t name the four Gospels. The late pollster George Gallup Jr. (1930-2011) liked to say: “Religion in America is miles wide and an inch deep.” Global polling suggests that Quran readers in many parts of the world follow a similar pattern. A vast Pew study of religious practices around the world, reported in depth last year, points out that across central Asia (including Turkey) and south-eastern Europe (including Kosovo and Albania), Muslims rarely read or listen to the Quran. That’s in sharp contrast with Muslims in the Middle East—where half of poll respondents claim to read or hear a portion of the Quran every day.

Still, these patterns suggest: We love our scriptures a whole lot more than we read them.

What truly matters to religious people on a daily basis? Most studies show: Prayer. That’s the No. 1 practice, whether Christian or Muslim. And No. 2, we hold dearly to basic moral beliefs we ascribe to our faith.

Our collective knowledge of our scriptures? Well, I suspect after decades as a journalist reporting from the U.S. and abroad: Quran readers are a lot like Bible readers. If we call ourselves Muslim or Christian, then we also claim to know and revere the truths found in our scriptures—even if we don’t spend as much time as we’d like actually reading them.

But what do you think? And, please, consider sharing these columns with friends by clicking the blue-“f” Facebook icons and “Liking” this column—or use the little envelope icon to email this to friends.

5 Ramadan surprises: Have you seen the beautiful children’s books?

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series 5 Ramadan Surprises

Ramadan Childrens books Under the Ramadan Moon and Night of the MoonRamadan children’s books.

That’s the fifth and final surprise this week. You can use the convenient index feature with this column (below) to go back through the other four surprising developments, which range from a creative Canadian idea for charitable giving—all the way to camel’s milk! The purpose of this week’s series is to wipe away stereotypes by bringing our readers news about the creative and compassionate range of Muslim culture.

Today, in Part 5, I’m arguing that a sure sign of the warmth of Muslim families is the appearance of children’s Ramadan books.

Why children’s books? They convey our traditions to future generations. In my own family, “December” never felt like “Christmas” until the children’s books emerged from our carefully packed holiday boxes. We still have several beloved editions of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and several more of The Night Before Christmas—after all, each edition has a different style of colorful illustrations! We’ve got a well-worn copy of Dr. Seuss’s fanciful tale about the Grinch. In our family, we always loved hearing my father read stories aloud before Christmas. The books he read remain among our favorites, including The Littlest Angel and a 1940, fire-engine-red, hardback edition of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer published just one year after the story debuted in a Montgomery Ward shopping promotion. (Note: I wasn’t born until 1955, but that bright-red Rudolph book and my father’s voice are among my earliest memories from the late 1950s.)

Get the point? Deep, loving, compassionate memories form around the reading of children’s books. As a journalist, when I began reporting about world religions three decades ago, I couldn’t find any books specifically about Ramadan in bookstores—period. After co-founding Read The Spirit in 2007, I helped to edit a book for adults on Ramadan: Najah Bazzy’s The Beauty of Ramadan.

Now, though, I’m thrilled to report that American parents can choose from many Ramadan children’s books in English. At Read The Spirit, we occasional recommend great children’s literature, so I have watched this Muslim genre closely. My two favorite Ramadan children’s books are shown at right.

The first is Under the Ramadan Moon, written by Sylvia Whitman and illustrated by Sue Williams. I simply love the gorgeous illustrations as the story takes us through a typical family’s experience of the fasting month. The lilting text is fun to read—and to hear: “We wait for the moon. We watch for the moon. We watch for the Ramadan moon.” I can envision children enjoying and repeating such lines.

The second is Night of the Moon: A Muslim Holiday Story, written by Hena Khan and illustrated by Julie Paschkis. While the first book tries to show us a mainstream, up-to-date family, I like the way Khan and Paschkis chose to introduce design elements from traditional Islamic art. These gorgeous details appear throughout the book, often framing the illustrations. The main character in this book is Pakistani-American, so a step away from the common stereotype that our Muslim neighbors are Arab-Americans.

Both are terrific choices for Muslim—and non-Muslim—families to enjoy with children. If you’ve read this far, you probably know the truth about terrific children’s books. It’s this: They’re fun for kids—but they’re even more fun for the adults who get to read them aloud.

Please, share these columns one more time. Click on the blue-“f” Facebook icons or the little envelope-shaped icons and spread word about this series. Thank you for reading along this week—and for doing a good deed in breaking down stereotypes!