This is a challenging time to be Muslim in America. Politicians eager to flex supremacist muscles, eager to profit off the fears of citizens who have witnessed acts of violence by Muslim terrorists, are doing their best to try to marginalize millions of law-abiding American Muslims who simply want to live in peace, to serve this country – and to serve God – from sea to shining sea.
Tomorrow, amidst those challenges, those millions of Americans, along with 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide, will wake before dawn in order to eat before first light. They will then pray fajr, the dawn prayer, forming a human wave of prayer that will roll from time zone to time zone, marking the beginning of the first of a month of fasting days, each lasting from dawn to sunset.
Together, the faithful will pray the beginning of Ramadan.
Tomorrow is going to be a very long day, the first of many – for me it will be about 17 hours before I eat and drink again.
Ramadan is one of the five obligatory pillars of Islam, a month when all Muslims, if they’re healthy and beyond the age of puberty, daily abstain from drinking, eating, smoking and sex between dawn and sunset.
“It was the month of Ramadan in which the Quran was (first) bestowed from on high as a guidance unto man and a self-evident proof of that guidance, and as the standard by which to discern the true from the false. Hence, whoever of you lives to see this month shall fast throughout it . . . and that you extol God for His having guided you aright, and that you render your thanks (unto Him).” Quran 2:185.
Ramadan is God’s challenge to humanity, a time of reflection, of restraint and renewal. Our thirst and hunger reminds us not only of the abundance – and sometimes the excesses – of our lives but of the many for whom each day is a struggle with poverty and hunger.
It is a welcome challenge. Muslims embrace Ramadan with love and joy.
Ramadan is a time to offer charity, to heal relationships, and to try and keep from getting agitated or angry toward others.
Sometimes that last part is difficult. What intrudes these days is the oppressive voice of those who would marginalize Muslims, register them, discriminate against them and some who would even deny American Muslims the right to practice their religion.
As the Islamic calendar, Hijra, is lunar, each year Ramadan arrives 11 days sooner than the previous year. In winter, fasting days are short. In summer fasting can last about 17 hours, a challenge during the heat of a New Hampshire summer – perhaps to become a greater challenge in the future as our world continues to warm.
Iftar, the meal which breaks the fast at sunset, begins by eating dates, in the tradition of the Prophet. Special foods are prepared. Families and friends, Muslims and non-Muslim, gather together. Extra congregational prayers (Tarawih) are performed at night.
As Muslims, initially brought here as slaves, have been present in what became America since the 1620s, there’s little doubt that Ramadan has been observed, if not fully recognized, here for centuries.
The first official Iftar celebrated in the United States was hosted by President Thomas Jefferson in 1805 when he hosted the Tunisian ambassador to the United States and they had the state dinner “precisely at sunset” as they negotiated the ongoing conflict between the United States and the Barbary States.
Ramadan is the holiest month in the Hijra calendar because it’s when God began to reveal the Qur’an to the Prophet Muhammad, transmitted by Angel Gabriel. The first verse revealed was, “Read in the name of thy Sustainer, who has created man out of a germ-cell. Read, for thy Sustainer is the Most Bountiful One who has taught (man) the use of the pen, taught man what he did not know!” Quran. 96:1-5.
As it’s not precisely clear on which night, “(God) bestowed this (divine writ) on the Night of Destiny,” other than it was sometime during the last 10 days of Ramadan, many Muslims spend those days in mosques, in prayer and contemplation.
It’s a month during which we closely consider our relationship with our Beloved. We celebrate love, reject materialism, reaffirm our desire to serve social justice and recommit ourselves to lives inspired by forgiveness and mercy.
The month will end with Eid Al-Fitr, celebrated in communal prayer and large community meals, often with new clothes and gifts for children.
Beyond Ramadan, beyond Eid Al-Fitr, America’s Muslims will still be here, renewed in their faith and determined to persevere in the land that has, regardless of hardship, given them sanctuary, hope and opportunity.
Within that renewal, in adherence to truth and responsibility, let’s hope that all Americans will be sustained and brought together by shared prayer, contemplation and by true commitment to One Nation for All.
I’ll pray to that.