Hungry for Ramadan

Hungry for Ramadan

It Takes a Village to Practice Ramadan

breaking_the_fast.jpgWhile there are aspects of Ramadan that are very personal, it is first and foremost a communal experience. Muslims are encouraged to pray in congregation, visit each other’s homes, and break their fast together at the end of the day. While it is nearly impossible not to do these things in a predominantly Muslim country, Muslims in America have to go out of their way to be among each other.
Unlike Muslims in Europe, Muslim Americans are geographically spread out across the country. With a few exceptions, you generally won’t find Muslim “ghettos” or other high concentrations of Muslims in America. (Even in Dearborn, Michigan–often referred to as the Muslim/Arab capital of America–Muslims number no more than 30 percent of the population.) While in general this is a good thing–Muslims should live among other Americans in order to break down social barriers–it does make a communal practice of Ramadan a bit difficult.
If you’re properly plugged in to the Muslim community, you’ll start getting Evite invitations for iftar meals even before Ramadan starts. (Those valuable weekend slots get snatched up quickly.) Even in a relatively small community like Austin, Texas, our iftar calendar has filled up our Ramadan weekends, with some invitations during the work week as well. These home visits provide a great excuse to build bonds within our community that have lapsed in the past year, and I’m looking forward to reconnecting with a few people who I haven’t seen since last Ramadan.

You’ll also need to find a mosque (sometimes referred to by the Arabic word “masjid”) near you. You can use websites such as to find a mosque near to your home or work. Generally, the nearest mosque will be between 5-10 miles away. (That’s just fine with me–while growing up, I drove over 20 miles each way to get to my mosque during Ramadan.)
In addition to the standard Friday congregational prayers, most larger mosques offer iftar meals in congregation and optional tarawih prayers at night during Ramadan (more about these later). The iftar meals–often a blend of foods reflecting the cultural diversity within a mosque–offer a great opportunity for sharing Ramadan with others. The mosque I attended while in high school used the iftar to create an impromptu soup kitchen that served homeless people in the area.
Other mosques have used iftars as interfaith opportunities, held either at the mosque itself or at larger venues in town. This is still a rare occurence, however, that I hope changes as Muslims become more comfortable reaching out to those around them.
While working as a engineering project manager a few years ago, I visited a construction crew building a cell tower on the roof of a mosque in the San Francisco Bay Area. The project happened to coincide with the month of Ramadan, so after inspecting their work I asked the crew what it was like to work on top of a mosque. They told me how the mosque regulars called them down from the roof at the end of each day and invited them to join the iftar. There was no prosletyzing involved–just sharing food with strangers. It clearly affected the way these construction workers saw Muslims and Islam.
When fasting is shared with others, a support structure is created that helps bring out the best of the fasting experience. Breaking the fast at the end of the day with others is a great way to see your sense of achievement and satisfaction reflected in the faces of those around you. And “breaking bread” with those of other faiths is one of the best ways to defuse tensions and create opportunities for understanding.

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posted September 18, 2007 at 7:33 am


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posted September 18, 2007 at 10:27 am

i have friends that are muslim and im not like some of my friends that down the muslims my friends that do that is kind of hypocritical to my knowledge because all my muslim friends pray faithfully where ever they areand they are very sweet people and the bible teaches judge not that ye be judged and if they are always downing the muslims then they are out of the will of god and i do know that the muslins are very faithful in their fasting during ramadan i will not leave my name

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Zahara Sterling

posted September 18, 2007 at 10:41 am

Greetings of Peace to all,
I am a mormon raised convert to Islam (age 40), married to a Jewish convert to Islam, (age 55) and we have both been muslim for over 21 years. We have lived in different states around the United States, briefly in Canada and England and five years in South Africa. I also enjoy the strengthening of bonds between muslims, neighbors and interfaith groups during this time as the article illustrates. At the same time, I find of equal importance and joy the increased intimacy of family life, when in the early hours of the morning we eat the meal before the fast begins, and the days without guests and community meetings when we end the fast as a family. The most important aspect of Ramadhan for me is a strengthening of the relationship between oneself and one’s own pure soul. You are the center of your life, actions and relationships, in the fast the connection you have with your own inner voice of guidance, light, beauty and compassion may be enhanced. Knowing oneself, loving oneself, is the fountain by which we water the world of the relationships around us. All my love to my Christian, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist brothers and sisters everywhere, and to all human beings who struggle knowingly or unknowingly to find the love and happiness which dwells within. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one….Enjoy the fast!
Zahara Sterling

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posted September 18, 2007 at 10:56 am

While I respect the Muslim beliefs and their right to celebrate their holy days I need to ask for consideration to your non Muslim neighbors, especially when the houses are in close proximity. We had to move away due to this. Our houses were quite close and our neighbor owned his own grocery store which he closed at 10pm. After he got home would start the gathering time for upwards of 30 men, women, and children right outside of our bedroom window. The grill would be fired up, animated talking would go on and children would be allowed to scream, run and ride “big wheels” until all hours of the night. Being a Christian, and a day shift worker, and my husband doing the same, and our children having to go to school this interfered greatly with our sleeping schedule. The police had to get involved several times and said they could hear the gathering from halfway down the city block. This conduct does not further understanding and respect from non-Muslim citizens, and in fact, has just the opposite effect!
I’m not saying all celebrators are guilty of this, but I’m saying that if the tables were turned and a Catholic neighbor decided to move the 7am Mass to their backyard with bell ringing, choir singing etc I don’t think it would be appreciated either.

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Rachel Barenblat

posted September 18, 2007 at 2:20 pm

Shahed, I’m so glad to have found this blog! Ramadan mubarak to you.
I wish I were more connected with the local Muslim community here in our small town in the Berkshires — though as far as I know the nearest masjid is in Springfield, about an hour and a half away. Still, I would love to be able to offer iftar in our home. And this year, as the Jewish festival of Sukkot falls during Ramadan, I would especially love to be able to invite Muslim friends over to break their fast in our sukkah, the temporary dwelling we build in our backyards at this time of year…

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Shahed Amanullah

posted September 18, 2007 at 6:18 pm

Susan – I’m so sorry you had that experience. Don’t know what to say other than that I hope Muslims like this realize the impacts of their actions on others. We are all ambassadors of our religion, and we all have a responsibility to behave in the best possible manner.

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Shahed Amanullah

posted September 18, 2007 at 6:20 pm

Rachel – there is an interfaith iftar that will be held under a sukkah here in Austin that I plan to attend. I can’t wait!

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Rachel Barenblat

posted September 19, 2007 at 11:28 am

Interfaith iftar under a sukkah — that is so cool. Austin is an awesome town. :-)

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