Ramadan 2018 and Eid al-Fitr: 6 Things You Should Know

Ramadan 2018 and Eid al-Fitr: 6 Things You Should Know

Ross Ackerman

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As Ramadan draws to a close, Muslims begin to look back in reflection on the month of fasting. Each day, from sunrise until sunset, Muslims refrain from food and drink to commemorate Muhammad’s first revelation of the Quran.

Once the sun sets, the daily fast comes to an end and the nightly meal, Iftar, begins. Do you know what to expect at an Iftar?

1. Arrive on time

Iftar is a regular breaking of the fast, and occurs exactly at the time of the sunset. If you happen to arrive late, you may miss the most important part of this Islamic tradition. So don’t do that!

2. Expect a crowd

Community is an important part of Ramadan. Breaking the fast and sharing food strengthens bonds between family and friends. Iftar is often a chance for people to host each other in their homes or gather together for a potluck in a local mosque.

3. Enjoy great food

Since Iftar translates from Arabic as “break fast,” you would be right to guess that the main event at a gathering is eating food. Following the tradition set by the prophet Mohammed, the fast is typically broken with dates and water. Be ready for lots of snacks, drinks, and sometimes even full course meals, but don’t start eating until the crowd breaks fast together.

4. Charity

Caring for others is a central theme of Ramadan. Some Muslims choose to give Iftar to others as a demonstration of this theme. The Islamic religious texts teach that blessings and rewards await those who show kindness to others, especially during Ramadan.

5. Prayer is prevalent

Shortly after breaking the fast with dates and water, Muslims pray the Maghrib. This is one of the five daily prayers recited throughout the year. Immediately following Iftar, Muslims recite additional night prayers called Tarawih. These prayers take place either in a mosque or the home, and sometimes last up to two hours.

6. The last breaking of the fast

After Ramadan comes to an end, Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr, or the Festival of Fast Breaking. In the spirit of each nightly Iftar, this festival marks an end to the month of fasting. Though the festival takes different forms across the Muslim world, the day of Eid marks the end of one of the important five pillars of Islam, Ramadan, alongside faith, prayer, charity, and the pilgrimage to the Muslim holy city of Mecca.

What Ramadan Means To Muslims

What Ramadan Means To Muslims

Regina Singleton

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Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic lunar calendar and it is a month in which Muslims abstain from food, water, and sexual relations with their spouses during the day in order to develop taqwa (closeness) with Allah. It also serves to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Prophet Muhammad. It is a pillar of Islam and obligatory on all adult Muslims who are healthy enough to observe it.

“O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous [Fasting for] a limited number of days. So whoever among you is ill or on a journey [during then] – then an equal number of days [are to be made up]. And upon those who are able [to fast, but with hardship] – a ransom [as substitute] of feeding a poor person [each day]. And whoever volunteers excess – it is better for him. But to fast is best for you, if you only knew.”

-Surah Baqarah 184-185

To understand why this month is an essential part of any Muslim’s life, it is important to first understand the significance of the word taqwa. Taqwa is an Arabic word that translates into English as piety, consciousness of Allah, fear of Allah, or closeness to him. A better way of understanding it would be to combine all these concepts: being conscious that Allah sees all and that reverence towards our religion influences our everyday choices, which in turn brings us closer to Him.

During this time we are also encouraged to give zakat (charity), read the entire Quran, study at the masjid (Muslim place of worship), break our fasts with family and friends, and participate in nightly prayers known as tarawih prayer.

When we break our fasts together and give zakat we form a closer bond with our family and community. When we seek knowledge and perform tarawih it strengthens our relationship with Allah and gives us a better understanding of him. All of this is meant to remind us that our purpose on this Earth is to worship Allah.

We experience a renewed sense of spirituality that doesn’t just end when Ramadan is over. It carries on into the rest of the year as well. We are still tasked with seeking deeper knowledge of our religion, remaining charitable, and maintaining bonds with our family and community. Taqwa isn’t just in the heart, it is also supposed to reflect in our actions towards others.

3 Surprising Facts About Muslims

3 Surprising Facts About Muslims

Asma Uddin

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There are almost 2 billion Muslims in the world and anywhere from 3 to 7 million in the United States, yet most Americans know almost nothing about their Muslim neighbors or the religion of Islam. I’m sure there are a lot of things you could learn about Islam or Muslims that would surprise—even delight—you. Here are a few to get the list started:

1. The Qur’an and the Bible share many of the same stories. Many non-Muslims are intrigued when they learn my six-year-old son, Eesa, is named after Jesus—“Eesa” is the Arabic translation for “Jesus.” His middle name is Jibreel – Arabic for ‘Gabriel’. And my younger son is named Mikael Suleman – yes, you guessed it: Michael Solomon. (On that note, did you know that “Allah” is simply Arabic for “The God”? We add “the” (which in Arabic is “Al” – Al-Lah) because our theology is fiercely monotheist. There is only One God—The God. Christian Arabs called God “Allah,” too!).

The names are important because they point to the same revered figures. Jesus and Solomon are prophets in Islam, and Gabriel and Michael are archangels. Of all the archangels, only Jibreel and Mikael are mentioned in the Qur’an, which makes clear their centrality to Islam: “Whoever is an enemy to God, and His angels and His messengers, and Jibreel and Mikael! Then, God (Himself) is an enemy to the disbelievers.” (2:98). There are, of course, some differences—the most obvious being the Christian belief in the divinity of Christ, whereas for Muslims Jesus is a prophet. But the similarities far outweigh the differences.

What is most important about sharing these stories is that they inform our religious principles and behavior. To share the stories means to share some very fundamental aspects of faith and faithful action.

2. Every year, Muslims are required to give away 2.5% of their assets in charity. This charity requirement is called zakat and it’s one of the five pillars of Islam, that is, one of the five most fundamental obligations a Muslim has to fulfill. Islamic scholars have determined eight categories of recipients eligible to receive zakat funds, including those who cannot meet their basic needs; those who do not have a means of livelihood (for instance, if someone lost their job); and those encumbered with overwhelming debt.

Besides the obligatory charity, there is also a major emphasis in Islam on voluntary charity—we’re advised to give as much as we can, and to not be showy or pompous in our giving (the Prophet Muhammad said something you may find in the Bible, too: charity should be given in secret, such that not even “your left hand should know what your right hand” gives). The Qur’an describes charitable giving as lending God a loan, which God promises in the Qur’an to multiply for us in the many blessings we know only come from Him. “Who is he that will lend to God a goodly loan so that He may multiply it to him many times? And it is God that decreases or increases (your provisions), and unto Him you shall return.” (2:245)

3. Muslims fast—and feeding others is a huge part of our faith. Another fundamental pillar of Islam is the required Ramadan fast. During the month of Ramadan, which is a month on the Islamic lunar calendar, Muslims around the world fast from dawn till dusk. During the summer, that means a Muslim may end up fasting 16 or more hours! This is particularly arduous since the fast requires that we abstain from food and drink. Yes, that includes water, too. The fast helps us detach ourselves from our bodily needs and turn inwards to contemplate the state of our soul.

But what’s really special about Ramadan is not the food we don’t eat—it’s all the food we are encouraged to give others. The month is enlivened by a level of socializing you don’t otherwise see. Muslims are eager to host dinner parties or sponsor the fast-breaking meal at the local mosque because God awards us abundantly for feeding a fasting person. So you may likely break bread with a whole group of other Muslims every single night of the month! And beyond the dinner parties are the ample opportunities to feed the poor, both at your local soup kitchens and by sending money abroad to third-world countries where hunger is unfortunately an epidemic.

There are so many aspects of my faith that help me rejoice in humanity. The generosity that flows so freely from my co-religionists all year, then is amped-up during Ramadan, shows me the goodness God cultivates in His followers. I hope you’ll take a moment to talk to your Muslim neighbors about some of the fundamental pillars of Islam, and share some of your practices, too.

Asma Uddin is the founder and editor-in-chief of altmuslimah.com. She is also a lawyer and scholar specializing in American and international religious liberty.

Interfaith Friends and Deep Gratitude

Interfaith Friends and Deep Gratitude

John Inazu

Photo by Chris Berry and BenRosePhotography

Interfaith friendship means finding common ground with others even when we differ in our beliefs. This requires clarity about our differences and charity across those differences. Religious differences are not trivial, like our preferences for sports teams or ice cream flavors. Rather, they concern the ultimate questions of existence, with serious implications for how we choose to live our lives.

The weight of religious differences means that I do not actually revere all the beliefs of my interfaith friends. I do not have “holy envy.” But I do have a genuine appreciation for these friends and their influence on my life. Let’s call it “deep gratitude.”

Respect for individuals can exist where beliefs diverge.

I have deep gratitude for the counsel and example of my dissertation advisor, Jeff Spinner-Halev. Jeff is Jewish, which means that his faith commitments differ from mine as a Christian. But we share academic commitments in what we write and how we write. Throughout my graduate work, Jeff demonstrated an ability to blend a commitment to excellence with a willingness not to take himself too seriously. But more than that, he never hid his faith or the obligations that flowed from it. To the contrary, Jeff’s integration of faith and work modeled for me the kind of scholar who bridges different worlds without neglecting any of them.

I like to think I’m a better husband and father from conversations with my Muslim friend, Eboo Patel, the founder of Interfaith Youth Core. Despite our religious differences, Eboo and I experience common pressures in balancing travel and speaking engagements with family commitments. We have spoken together around the country and are currently co-teaching a class at Washington University. I always enjoy debating issues of pluralism and religious difference with him. But the defining moment of our friendship came during a walk around a park where we talked about our families. In that moment, and in many subsequent ones like it, Eboo encourages me as a person of faith and a human being to care for my family, to guard against pride, and to take seriously my own commitments.

My atheist friends challenge me with their honesty and eagerness in probing weighty questions. I won’t name these friends because they do not publicly identify as atheists. But they do not shy away from that label in our private conversations. I admire their willingness to articulate fear and uncertainty, which I sometimes find lacking in Christian friends who mask rather than confess their own doubts. This does not mean, however, that I think doubt and unbelief are good things. As a Christian whose hope is rooted in the life and death of Jesus, I wish that my atheist friends (and friends of other faiths) could share in that hope. But I value their depth of thought in our discussions about the difference between optimism and hope (the latter requires an object toward which it is directed). And I admire the integrity of their reasoning, though ultimately it can have the effect of leaving them without hope, absent a belief in God. This is a costly honesty, but honesty nonetheless, something that is missing in many of our social interactions. And their openness to share it with me signals trust, vulnerability—and friendship.

Interfaith friendships personify differences in a way that softens our assumptions and stereotypes. They allow us to experience charity that is rooted in relationships with real human beings. I do not think abstractly about Jews, Muslims, and atheists—I think of Jeff, Eboo, and other friends whom I have the privilege of knowing. And I thank God for each of them.

John Inazu is the Sally D. Danforth Distinguished Professor of Law and Religion at Washington University in St. Louis and the author of Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving Through Deep Difference.

Editor’s note: This essay is part of an ongoing series on Holy Envy. People of various religions explain what they admire in other faiths. The purpose is to increase understanding and solidarity between believers.

Holy Envy: What One Muslim Woman Learned From Mormons about Centering Her Children in the Faith

Holy Envy: What One Muslim Woman Learned From Mormons about Centering Her Children in the Faith

Asma Uddin

Holy Envy: What One Muslim Woman Learned From Mormons about Centering Her Children in the Faith
“Terrorism dominates the news, anti-Muslim sentiment is rising and American Muslim kids are bullied by young people and adults alike. As parents, we wonder: How do we make our children feel safe even when we don’t? How do we make them feel safe about their faith?”

I wrote that in an opinion-editorial for The Washington Post a few years ago, co-authoring with a friend, a young mother like myself, who was confounded by the same question. In the piece, we interviewed several other American Muslim parents, all expressing similar concerns about protecting faith and spirituality in an age of politicized religion.

Each of us shared practices we implement to buffer our kids from outside spiritual threats. There have been plenty of times when I have rushed to turn off CNN when my daughter walked in to hear politicians declare “Islam hates us” or to video footage of the latest horrific terrorist attack.

But buffering can go only so far. We need tools to help youth stay firmly rooted in their faiths and remain conscious of God’s presence even when—especially when—the outside world threatens to rip away their spiritual wonder and certainty. Many of the parents I interviewed for my op-ed said their solution was to ground their children first and foremost in the basics of Islam.

What else can Muslim parents do? And is there anything from other faith practices that might work for us, too? Based on my interactions with believers from other faith communities, I am certain there is.

Mormon practice, in particular, fascinates me. This is partly because The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, with its history of religious liberty persecution, provides models of perseverance for American Muslims today. It also has a uniquely American flavor at a time when American Muslims are still struggling to strengthen their communities and build institutions. In this moment when such institutions are few and far between, I envy the organization of the LDS Church, particularly for its effects on youth.

One sociologist, Kenda Creasy Dean of Princeton Theological Seminary, has found that Mormonism is uniquely successful in cultivating youth “who firmly understand what they believe and why their faith needs to have a claim on their behavior.” She identifies four elements of this success:

  1. Mormon youth know their faith, and they know it well. They don’t learn it from media or from friends outside their faith community. They aren’t fed generalities or what Dean calls the “feel-good stuff.” And there’s both an institutional and home dimension to their teaching. Classes happen in both venues, helping to connect what happens outside the home to what happens in the kids’ safest, most intimate spaces.
  2. Mormon youth are taught to articulate what their faith is and why they participate in their religious practices. By translating knowledge into testimony, they acquire key skills, like leadership, storytelling, and the ability to connect with others personally.
  3. It’s not all talk — action matters too. Mormon youth define their goals and work toward achieving them. Contributions start small but early — tithing, volunteering for service projects, and Church building upkeep.
  4. Purpose isn’t defined in earthly terms only. The ultimate reason and hope of religious life is to be successful in the life that comes after death.

Some of these overlap with Muslim practices, particularly the focus on life after death — as the Prophet Muhammad advised, “Be in this world as though you were a wayfarer.” Life is entirely about journeying to the hereafter. This sort of focus can’t help but buttress one’s spirituality.

But other areas of overlap show how the modern experience of Islam can learn from Mormonism. Consider, for example, the second element above: articulating one’s faith. In our current political climate, every young American Muslim is expected by the larger society to serve as a spokesman for the faith. Yet, unlike the Mormon articulation of faith, this spokesmanship tends to focus on apologetics and political talking points. Even worse, it begins to chip away from the experience of Islam as religion.

When it comes to learning the faith, there is also room to improve. So many young American Muslims today learn about their faith through media. For us, learning has all too often become a matter of reaction: What are others saying about Islam and how do we respond? How do we defend our practices from ugly accusations? Again, I lament the spiritual emptiness that comes with politicized religion. Meanwhile, the beauty of Islamic beliefs is inviting to be discovered more richly.

I realize that so much of what I envy about Mormonism is its ability to extract itself from its surroundings and focus inwardly. The Church has faced and continues to face challenges from without, but it keeps its adherents firmly centered on substantive beliefs translated into concrete, impactful actions. In my own experience of faith, particularly as I transmit it to my kids, the Mormon model of centeredness is something I seek to replicate.

Asma Uddin is the founder and editor-in-chief of altmuslimah.com. She is also a lawyer and scholar specializing in American and international religious liberty.

Editor’s note: This essay is part of an ongoing series on Holy Envy. People of various religions explain what they admire in other faiths. The purpose is to increase understanding and solidarity between believers.

Holy Envy: A Muslim Woman Celebrates Her Catholic Heritage

Holy Envy: A Muslim Woman Celebrates Her Catholic Heritage

Amira Alsareinye

Since birth I was exposed to two different, beautiful worlds — Catholicism and Islam. Likewise, my parents gave me two wonderfully distant cultures — Mexican and Syrian. To add to this curiosity, my parents met in Texas and raised me right there in the heart of the Bible belt. So, to say that I’m unique is an understatement. But I love my heritages in all their cultural and geographical variety.

My experience with two contrasting religions has enriched my spiritual life. Growing up I would mimic my Muslim father in his daily prayers, and my mother would come to my room at night and ask me to recite the “Our Father.” When we visited my grandmother at Christmas time, her house smelled of tamales and spices and her tree was covered in ornaments and candy canes. Oh, how I wished I could have a tree, or at least help decorate it. We didn’t celebrate Christmas at home, much less have a tree, so when we visited my Abuela it felt special.

The decorations, the family, the food, and of course the presents, all celebrated the Spirit of God, or as Muslims say Rooh-Allah. In more traditional Catholic circles, Christmas celebration lasts forty days and ends at the Feast of the Purification of Mary in February.

Muslims celebrate Eid at the end of Ramadan when gifts are exchanged with family, similar to Christmas. But the sharing was incomplete because my father’s side of the family lived far away in Syria, a place I wouldn’t see until I turned ten. I always felt so isolated from the other children. My family was different, my holidays were different, my culture was different, and my fellow Texans thought I was so odd. But surrounded by family who loved me, Christmas at Abuela’s made me feel accepted, even if they didn’t understand why I couldn’t eat the tamales (though they were pork-free).

Though I often felt conflicted by these two religions, I eventually decided Islam was the right path for me. How ironic, then, that years later I ended up at a Catholic university. Who would have thought the Muslim girl who wears hijab and prays five times a day would be hanging around the school chapel almost every day? Not me, that’s for sure. In my sophomore year at The University of the Incarnate Word (UIW), I discovered an interfaith student organization and was able to learn more about the Catholic faith, as well as many other faiths. I began inviting friends to the group and attending events with excitement.

At that time, the leader was nearing graduation and the organization asked me to take her place. I felt overwhelmed at first, but after careful consideration accepted. Not only did I become president of the organization, but I also began working as the interfaith intern in campus ministry. I went from a shy, quiet person to laughing and joking every day. My colleagues were like an extended family to me, so even if I wasn’t on the clock organizing events, I loved to just stick around.

When I wasn’t in the offices I helped the sacristan in the Chapel. He often cared for the place alone so I would go in and ask if he needed assistance. I helped raise the banners behind the altar, water the plants, and set up the area near the door of the chapel. When Advent season came, that little girl wishing to decorate at her Abuela’s suddenly emerged within me. So I rummaged through the closet and found pink and purple candles to put on the wreath.

I asked many questions about Catholicism and always learned something new. Decorating was one thing, but feeling comfortable enough to converse with an officer of the church gave me gratitude. And though I can’t speak for all Muslims, this experience made me wish Muslim clerics were as open. There are many Sheikhs willing to answer my questions, but the dignity of their position seems to require a certain reserve.

The opportunities I had to decorate this Catholic chapel prompt me to ponder the relationship between creativity and faith. God is the ultimate Creator. So when we, as His creations, use our resources to create something artistic, we move closer to Him. As Muslims we say that nothing resembles God — Laysa Kamithlihi Shay — but we strive to keep righteous actions to near ourselves to His presence. Surrounded by divine inspiration to create, we in turn can inspire others.

Mosques, brocaded with geometric shapes and beautiful calligraphy, are examples of this artistic inspiration. But I sometimes secretly wish that Islamic holidays came with the same kind of decoration and festivity as Christmas. This is okay because learning about the religious practices of others only helps me grow in my own faith.

I am proud to be a Muslim woman, but the Catholic heritage I received from my mother and grandmother continue to broaden my appreciation for humankind. Having lived between two worlds, I still feel the personal pull of both Islam and Catholicism and wish others could experience the beauty that I have.

Amira Alsareinye holds a Bachelor of Arts in biology from The University of the Incarnate Word (UIW). While attending UIW, she worked as the Interfaith Student Ministry Intern for Campus Ministry. She is currently busy caring for her two children. Her passions include art, science, and writing.

Editor’s note: This essay is part of an ongoing series on Holy Envy. People of various religions explain what they admire in other faiths. The purpose is to increase understanding and solidarity between believers.

Love Thy Neighbor

Love Thy Neighbor

Emily Hedrick

Love Thy Neighbor

In June 2016, my friends and I had the opportunity to spend three weeks in Morocco during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Although my initial goals for the trip were to visit amazing sites, I had no idea that I would come away with a deeper respect for Islam.

Morocco is in Berber country in the northwest corner of Africa. For a Westerner like myself, everything was foreign— the language, the writing, and the culture. I was greeted by our guide Mohammed (there are a lot of Mohammed’s in Morocco) who introduced us to Moroccan life. My questions about Islam were endless and Mohammed graciously answered every single one.

me on a camel

After our two-week tour, Mohammed invited me to spend a few days with his family. Not wanting to pass up on his invitation, I spent three days getting to know his family and learning their customs firsthand. Communication was tough because I had a lot of questions for his family, but only Mohammed knew English. It was a wonderful opportunity to sit back and observe this close family who is dedicated to their beliefs. As I spent those few days with Mohammed, his wife, and his three sons I could see very clear that Allah came first and a very close second was his family. They were dedicated to their daily fasting, praying, and reciting of the Quran.

me on a camel

Mohammed, his brother, two sons, and I took a drive around the windy roads of the Atlas mountains. We stopped at a mosque for Mohammed and his brother to pray at. There were no other buildings or structures around and it was far from the town in the valley. I learned later that this mosque was built only in the last couple of years. When King Mohammed VI was traveling around his country, he stopped in this area. He met an old man and asked him what he could do to help him. The old man asked for a “place where he can pray.” The King was surprised by his request because most people ask him for financial help. He went back to his palace and organized funds to build a mosque. This mosque is now a place of worship for many of the shepherds and others who live in this isolated territory.

This story has stayed with me ever since. My experiences in Morocco have been one of the highlights of my life. I look at my friend Mohammed as an example of someone who truly lives his faith. He and all the Moroccans that I met generously live by “love thy neighbor as thyself” and are a continued example to me.