Ramadan: What it means to CAIR-Chicago staff and interns

Every year, Ramadan starts on the ninth month of the Islamic calendar when the crescent moon is sighted. This is because it is believed that during this time, the Quran was revealed.

This year, Ramadan began on July 20th.

During Ramadan, Muslims around the world fast from sunrise to sunset for 30 days. Ramadan is a time for Muslims to focus on their spirituality and the teachings of Islam. Muslims pray more and abstain from taking part in, or even listening to foul behavior and language. Each person has a unique experience and it means something different to everyone who celebrates.

This holy month gives Muslims an opportunity to meditate on what is important in their lives and how to improve their relationship to God. They are able to avoid worldly possessions that they may take for granted.

“For me, Ramadan means re-examining and heightening my spirituality,” Aymen Abdel Halim, Communications Coordinator for CAIR-Chicago explained, “it’s about having a stronger sense of self, and understanding who I am to others.”

It takes a lot of strong will to keep one’s mind off of food and drink, and even more focus on thinking about how to become a better person.

Government Affairs intern Adbulla Ansari explained, “Ramadan is truly a changing experience for me. It’s a spiritual recharge that allows me to reflect on myself and my life.”

The spiritual journey involves giving up not just food and drink but also anything that creates bad habits. “The most important part of Ramadan is fasting – fasting from not only food and water,” Policy Research intern Nasir Almasri claimed, “but cigarettes, swearing, lying, temptations, and anything that further removes us from Islam.”

Once Muslims stop feeding their bodies from temptations and unnecessary worldly possessions they can focus on what really is important: their spirituality. Almasri further explained, “As one artist puts it, though we do not eat in Ramadan there is a ‘feeding of the mind.’ It is a time to collect oneself and rejuvenate the soul.”

Ramadan gives Muslims a fresh start to their way of thinking about their lives and the way they practice their religion. “Even though this is not the official start of the Islamic new year,” Gerald Hankerson, CAIR-Chicago’s Outreach Coordinator said, “I see it as an opportunity to really implement all the things that I’ve learned to all my thoughts, actions and syncs.”

To staff and interns fasting this month, Ramadan is a time to think about whom they have become and how they can become better; to reminisce about how they act not just toward others, but also within themselves. It is about how they are planning their goals and accomplishing them. “It is a month to be thankful for, to be able to remember what it means to be human,” Operations Coordinator Mohamed Abdelati explained, “Ramadan is about self control and about self realization.”

Ramadan is also a time when Muslims can think not only of their own spiritual well-being, but to think about the suffering of others. “When I was a child I remember my mother said, you fast because it’s a reminder that kids around the world don’t have food,” Abdel Halim explained, “it was to teach me to be humble and appreciative.”

Ramadan also teaches Muslims to value the things that they have, because something that was always available can suddenly disappear. “Ramadan gives me a great appreciation for all of the privileges I take for granted on a daily basis and rejuvenates my sense of purpose,” Communications Coordinator Leena Saleh explained.

Charity and generosity is also encouraged through out Ramadan. The Zakat, or a “the poor rate,” is a percentage Muslims donate out of their savings to the poor throughout the year.

During Ramadan, Muslims usually give more to those who are less privileged and need help. “It is a time where I try to give all I can to my community and a time where my consciousness of those suffering is raised and where I connect with them,” Saleh said. Many masjids, community centers, and organizations usually give food and clothing to the poor or donate school supplies.

When it comes to eating, Muslims are allowed to eat as long as the sun is down. Early in the morning, Muslims eat a meal called Suhoor. At sunset Muslims eat another meal called Iftar. Meals are diverse but they also have sweets that are only made during Ramadan. Fasting usually lasts 30 days or until the next lunar month, Shawwal, starts. Many may believe that it can be physically demanding or unhealthy, but in reality the human body usually adapts quickly.

At the end of Ramadan, Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr. It is a holiday and celebration for Muslims. They dress up and go to their Mosques and have an Eid, or a morning prayer. The rest of their day is spent with their families or close friends.

They usually have a big dinner and presents are shared. There are a lot of festivities in mosques and a lot of food is made and distributed. It is the first day that Muslims are allowed to eat during sunlight and it is actually forbidden to fast on this day.

70 days after Eid al-Fitr, Muslims celebrate Eid al-Adha, or the “Festival of Sacrifice.” This year it will begin on Thursday October 25, 2012. It lasts 3 days and it marks the end of the pilgrimage to Mecca. This day is celebrated by Muslims around the world to commemorate the story of Abraham and his son Ishmael, since it is an important example about the obedience to God.

Ramadan’s lessons of humility and appreciation also serve to unite Muslims around the world. “Ramadan is my favorite time of the year because it unifies the Muslim community,” Aseal Tineh said, “It is during this one holy month that all Muslims around the world, are united in this act of fasting, regardless of race, culture, or class. And it is in this month that I feel anything is a possibility because it is a start to a new beginning.”