Ramadan is beginning for the world’s Muslims.
The month-long observance is a time to fast, to think and to spend time with friends and family.
In the United States, people of different national origins gather at Islamic centers for religious services and to celebrate their beliefs.
Muslim Americans observe Ramadan in much the same way as Muslims in other countries do.
There are traditions to be followed.
Families buy meat prepared according to Muslim law. The meat is served after sunset, when the daily fast ends. Fasting requires Muslims to avoid eating, drinking and sexual activity during daylight hours.
Families also pray together and help the poor.
Shaker Elsayed is the religious leader of the Dar al-Hijra Islamic Center in Falls Church, Virginia. The center serves Muslims of 42 different nationalities.
He said, “Ramadan becomes a very helpful opportunity to bring people together, those who come from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds and linguistic backgrounds.”
He added, “We all speak English so we use English as a unifying language, and at the same time, we do all the activities to accommodate everybody, especially in Ramadan.”
Shaker said the center provides Muslims free meals to break their fast. It also organizes nightly prayers during Ramadan.
During the day, Muslim Americans are fasting, but their co-workers and friends are not. For Ibrahim Radi, an Egyptian-American, that is not a problem.
“I have to fast because it is my religious duty,” he said, so it does not concern him too much.
His wife, Nadia, told VOA she misses big family gatherings in Morocco.
“There is a big difference; here you do not have extended families, so instead of having 10 people around the table, there is only the two of us,” she said.
A time for religious duties and to inform others
Some Muslim Americans say their work day seems longer because they have to carry out their religious duties during Ramadan. Amina Tanboush of Senegal describes some of those duties.
“Everyone will cook some food and bring it, and we all eat together and pray together and we talk about [the] Muslim religion, teach each other, sometimes we go to pray together around lunch time,” she said.
For many Muslim American groups, Ramadan also is a time to tell the American public about their religious observances and the Islamic faith, in general.
Among the activities are “open houses” at Islamic centers and local mosques. Other activities include public talks during Ramadan and Iftar dinners with non-Muslims. At this time of year, some television stations broadcast advertisements that bring attention to Muslims as an important part of United States society.
Shaker Elsayed said his Islamic center invites Christians and Jewish Americans to Iftar dinner every Wednesday. The dinners are an effort to increase contacts between religious groups.
Discussion about religion is popular during Ramadan.
Keth Ellison is the first Muslim American to be elected to the U.S. Congress. He says these dialogues help build understanding between religious groups.
“It's a critically important dialogue for us to have; all people of all colors, all cultures and faiths need to come together to talk about points of difference so we can discover how are we unified.”
Since the early 1990s, U.S. presidents have given Ramadan greetings to the more than 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide.
Shaker said he believes the presidential greetings have helped Americans know more about Ramadan and Muslim Americans.
I’m Mario Ritter.
Mohamed Elshinnawi reported this story for VOANews. Mario Ritter adapted his report for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
fast – v. to stop eating and drinking for a period of time
origin – n. a cause, rise or beginning
according – adv. as stated by or in
opportunity – n. a chance to do something
accommodate – v. to provide something needed by someone
linguistic – adj. of or relating to language
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