Hungry for Ramadan

Hungry for Ramadan

An American Date for Ramadan

posted by Shahed Amanullah

medjool_dates.jpgI had a date last night. No, it’s not what you think: Muslims customarily break their fast with a date. Dates have a special significance in Muslim culture and tradition. Referenced many times in the Qur’an, date palms are said to have sheltered and sustained Mary while she was giving birth to Jesus, and dates were a staple of the diet of the Prophet Muhammad and his companions.
My date of choice is a Medjool date, large and plump, and I usually bring to potluck iftars a plate of Medjools stuffed with walnuts and sprinkled with powdered sugar. 90% of Medjool dates available in the US come from the fertile Coachella Valley of California, near where I grew up. In fact, southern California is one of the few areas outside the Middle East where dates are successfully cultivated. Dozens of varieties of dates are grown there. And in my humble opinion, they are the best dates in the world.
My father used to take me on pilgrimages to Mecca. Not the holy city in Saudi Arabia, but the town of Mecca, California, where the annual Date Festival is held. We got to sample every type of date available — Zahidi, Deglet Noor, Empress, and others. In this part of California, dates are not only celebrated–view the many roadside date shops and billboards along Interstate 10–but their links to the Arab and Muslim world are acknowledged respectfully. The date growers we met even asked us if they were pronouncing the Arabic names properly.

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The Challenge of Ramadan and Charitable Giving

posted by Shahed Amanullah

umma_clinic.jpgOne of the most important tenets of Islam is charity, and it is during Ramadan when Muslim pocketbooks open most freely. With our hearts softened through the rigor of fasting and reflection, our attention turns to those less fortunate. Charity, or zakat in Arabic, is considered one of the five “pillars” of Islam and a mandatory tenet of the faith, and a strong charitable impulse is an attribute for which Muslims worldwide are well known. And at the end of Ramadan, a specific donation, zakat-ul-fitr, is collected for these charitable purposes.
In a post-9/11 America, however, the institution of zakat has taken on a whole new meaning. Scores of US-based Muslim charities have been shut down or their activities curtailed for fear of promoting terrorist causes overseas. While in some of these cases a link was established between one or more staff members and suspicious groups overseas, most closures were preemptive in nature, leaving millions of dollars of Muslim charitable contributions with nowhere to go.

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Break Your Fast the American Way: Eat Out!

posted by Shahed Amanullah

halal_food.jpgOne of the things that makes America special is our food. We have a unique way of taking cuisines from all over the world–China, Mexico, and Italy come to mind–and putting an American twist on it. We have managed to elevate eating out to an art form, and it has a special place in American culture.
But for Muslim Americans who abide by halal dietary restrictions (similar to Jewish kosher rules, but not as stringent), eating out has presented a challenge. Where can Muslims go without having to resort to vegetarian options? (Although, thankfully, there are an increasing number of good vegetarian restaurants available.) The answer is the halal restaurant–defined not by cuisine type, but by the use of meat slaughtered after the Muslim invocation to God.

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Why I Really Fast, and What I Gain

posted by Shahed Amanullah

hardshipcomesease.jpgThere is a communal and public aspect of Ramadan that helps to bind Muslims as a community (ummah in Arabic), and there are the logistics of fasting that help us balance our daily responsibilities around the commitment to fast. But the act of fasting is, at its heart, a very personal spiritual experience–a contract between ourselves and our Creator that helps to reestablish our place with respect to Him.
Fasting serves the mental purpose of taming our ego, the physical purpose of putting mind over body, and the spiritual purpose of submitting ourselves to God’s will.
It is human nature to empower and elevate ourselves. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when left unchecked, it can become an addiction that upsets the critical balance between people that is needed for a civil society. Muslims, like all humans, are no exception to this instinct. Left to our own devices, we would worship only ourselves and resist any attempt to put rules and restrictions on our behavior. But there is an inner voice or state–Muslims refer to it as our fitra–that recalls a primordial covenant with God to recognize His authority over all things. It is this basic relationship between human and divine that Ramadan seeks to reestablish.

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Previous Posts

Ramadan 2009 (on Beliefnet)
The Ramadan calendar dates for 2009 are August 21st through September 19th. Are you hungry for more on Ramadan? Here are some useful links for you to learn about this holy month observed by Muslims worldwide: Muslim holy month trivia: Find out how much you really know - test your knowledge with thi

posted 12:22:13pm Aug. 18, 2009 | read full post »

"Hungry for Ramadan" Recap
It feels strange holding a cup of coffee in my hand today, just like it felt strange eating pizza for lunch over the weekend. Everything looks normal, but deep down I know it is not. I have just spent a month refraining from food and drink and trying constantly to keep God in my mind, and I am sti

posted 11:55:52am Oct. 15, 2007 | read full post »

These are the Days of Eid
Why is it that Eid is a three-day affair? Perhaps it is because Muslims (despite their best efforts) end up celebrating it on different days. For those Muslims who follow the lead of Saudi Arabia (as some of the more conservative mosques do), the Eid celebration is today. However, for most Muslim

posted 12:27:01pm Oct. 12, 2007 | read full post »

What a Difference 30 Days Can Make
As the fading crescent moon can attest to, the month of Ramadan is coming to a close. All around the world, readings of the Qur'an that started on the first page 30 days ago are reaching their conclusions. The long nights in the mosque over the last 10 days, in eager search of the Night of Power,

posted 12:10:56pm Oct. 11, 2007 | read full post »

The Sweets of Ramadan
One of the unique pleasures of Ramadan is the tradition of specially prepared Ramadan sweets that originate from a host of different cultures and nationalities across the Muslim world. These Ramadan sweets and pastries help create a festive mood around the iftar table, and the best thing about Ramad

posted 1:17:35pm Oct. 10, 2007 | read full post »


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