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If you drive down Route 7 in Falls Church around sunset and after dusk, you know that Muslims are up to something. Traffic comes to a standstill, and the streets of the global village are filled with pedestrians heading to a time-honored tradition of breaking the fast and offering prayers in the mosque.
It’s Ramadan in America.
Growing up an Episcopalian in Brooklyn, I was familiar with fasting in Lent and Yom Kippur. But in 1982 I accepted Islam. While working a summer job on a juice delivery truck, I would discover the realities of my new religion during Ramadan in one of the hottest summers in New York history, 1983. The last time Ramadan was in August was 33 years ago.
The Quran teaches in Surah 2:183:
O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you (Jews, Christians and others), that you acquire Taqwaa (a faithful and conscious connection with God).
The fast consists of abstaining from food, drink and the feeding of one’s passion from dawn until sunset. The Islamic lunar calendar moves 11 days earlier every year.
Ramadan Iftar (the nightly breaking of the fast) is like having Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner every night for 30 days. My mosque, Dar Al-Hijrah, hosts a free public dinner every night, feeding more than 800 people. It is a time you feel empathy for the hungry. You tame your appetite for this world and to feed your spirit from prayer and the nightly reading of the scriptures in the mosque or at home. It is a time of seeking forgiveness from those whom you have wronged and after the month is completed to start anew, forgiven.
Yet Ramadan has deeper spiritual dimensions of compassion, self-sacrifice and introspection. The eyes must fast from the occasional inappropriate look, the heart from the feelings of ill will, racism, sexism and class. No road rage or passionate lying. It is a time of soul-training and of great charity.
President Obama shared in his annual Ramadan greeting:
“Families and communities share the happiness of gathering together for iftar and prayers … in the United States, Muslim Americans share Ramadan traditions with their neighbors, fellow students, and co-workers.”
One of my former students shared at a campus iftar, “You know it’s Ramadan when your mother cooks dinner every night.” So fast, pray and invite a friend over for a bowl of Haira.
“Ramadan Mubarak,” have a blessed Ramadan.
Imam Johari Abdul-Malik is the Director of Outreach at the Dar Al-Hijrah Community Center in Falls Church.