Ramadan for everyone

Growing up in the United States, it’s impossible to not know when Christmas and Easter come around. It may be difficult to figure out in advance when Easter arrives each year (it is the first Sunday after the full moon following the vernal equinox, by the way), but everyone in this country pretty much knows when it’s Christmas and Easter time.

In one of my favorite songs by The Queen of Soul–Aretha Franklin–she sings a line almost as if she knows everyone already knows it: “We must believe in each other’s dreams.” Indeed.

So, along comes this Muslim Tide in the United States (converts as well as immigrants), and all of a sudden it’s the 21st Century and there are millions of Muslims here and they are observing “Ramadan,” a month-long fast during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. And because the Islamic calendar is measured in lunar time, rather than solar time, it’s almost as hard to figure out the precise dates of Ramadan as it is guessing the date Easter will fall next year. The lunar calendar is about 11 days shorter than the solar calendar.

Ramadan began this year following the sighting of the New Moon on Friday Aug. 21. It should end around Sept. 21 or 22 with a celebration called the “Eid-ul-Fitr,” the Feast of Thanksgiving.

We must believe in each other’s dreams.

I’ve been in two Islamic countries–Egypt and Turkey–during the Christmas season and in many of the places I went, I saw pictures of Santa Claus and Christmas greetings. Of course these signs were intended to make tourists from Western (read Christian) countries comfortable, but I’m certain the sentiments were sincere.

And I’m told that even in India, where the majority population is not Muslim, where in fact Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism all originated, and where tens of millions of Muslims reside; I’m told that in India, many people are observant of all the religious holidays, regardless of their own faith. Believe in each other’s dreams.

Ramadan is one of the Five Pillars of Islam–Shahada, Salaat, Zakat, Ramadan, Hajj. Shahada is a statement of belief in the One God, whose name in Arabic is “Allah,” and belief in His Prophet Muhammad. Salaat is prayer. Muslims pray five times each day at designated times. Zakat is the practice of charitable giving.

During Ramadan Muslims must abstain from food, drink, and sexual relations with their spouses from dawn to dusk during this month, and are to be especially mindful of other sins. The fast is meant to allow Muslims to seek nearness to Allah, to express their gratitude to and dependence on him, to atone for their past sins, and to remind them of the needy.

During Ramadan, Muslims are also expected to put more effort into following the teachings of Islam by refraining from violence, anger, envy, greed, lust, harsh language, gossip and to try to get along with people better than normal. In addition, all obscene and irreligious sights and sounds are to be avoided, and the Islamic scripture–the Holy Quran–is read or recited in 30 parts, each day. Fasting during Ramadan is obligatory. Hajj is the Pilgrimage to the Holy City Mecca during the month of al-Hijjah, the twelfth month of the Islamic calendar, to be performed once in each Muslim’s lifetime, if he or she can afford it.

In this country, especially among Black folks, Ramadan has become more of a shared time of the year. And with so many Black Christian families with a brother or a sister, an uncle, an aunt, or a cousin, who’s converted to Islam, many, many Black Christians now know about and respect Ramadan when it rolls around. That’s good.

Why even President George W. Bush recognized Ramadan every year with more than mere lip service. Mr. Bush would host an event one evening for all the ambassadors from countries with large Islamic populations to come to the White House to break the fast, at what is called “Iftar.”

And while I understand that Mr. Bush held Iftar events at the White House aimed at the diplomatic community and not for domestic consumption, so as to appear less like an anti-Islamic Crusader waging a war of conquest against two Islamic countries–Afghanistan and Iraq–it was nonetheless the right thing for the POTUS to do.

So, let’s all get with it. Not only should we be considerate of our Islamic friends and neighbors and not offer them a spare-rib during this month of Ramadan, we shouldn’t be gluttonous all day around Muslims, who are fasting, even avoiding water.

Finally, it’s a good time to practice another Muslim practice, mentioned in the Quran: when someone gives you a greeting, return the greeting with an even kinder greeting. During Ramadan, Muslims greet one another saying: “Ramadan Mubarak,” which means “Blessed Ramadan.”

The proper reply is “Ramadan Kareem,” which means “Glorious Ramadan.”

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