Local Muslims hope Ramadan events will build bridges with non-Muslims
By JoAnne Viviano, The Columbus Dispatch
Muslims in central Ohio are inviting their non-Muslim neighbors to learn more about the Islamic holy month of Ramadan by partaking in one of the evening fast-breaking meals that mark the observance.
Such meals, called iftars, start with water and dates and include prayer and often a reading from the Muslim holy book, the Quran.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Groveport plans a July 27 interfaith iftar that will feature a panel of members of various religions discussing their own fasting traditions, said Dr. Abdus Salam Malik, the group’s president.
“A lot of people have misconceptions, and problems arise in the community when people don’t know each other,” Malik said. “So we want people to come and get to know each other and, once they know each other, they realize that … everybody has human values, good values. That creates better understanding and better peace.”
Ramadan begins its first full day today and ends with the Eid al-Fitr holiday on Aug. 8. Throughout the month, Muslims abstain from food, water, smoking and sex from sunrise until sunset.
The Columbus chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations plans to play host to about 250 people at its interfaith iftar on July 19, said spokeswoman Hannah Tyler. This is the 16th year the group has sponsored the event; Muslims are asked to invite friends, neighbors and co-workers to share in the meal.
Tyler said that central Ohio has largely embraced the Muslim community, in part because it has long been home to a large Somali population that practices the faith. That exposure, she said, leads to understanding.
“Columbus, in general, just seems to be tolerant,” she said. “It seems to be a good place to live for any type of ‘other’ or minority.”
Other Ramadan events include a July 27 intra-faith iftar in Dublin for Muslims of different denominations and organizations, said Fazeel Khan of the Lahore Ahmadiyya Islamic Society in Dublin, the sponsor.
“It is an opportunity for us to strengthen the bond between Muslims of different groups, an effort that we believe is also very much needed today in addition to building bridges between people of different religions,” Khan said.
At the Noor Islamic Cultural Center in Dublin, young people are collecting food for the Hilliard Food Pantry as part of a Ramadan project, said Imran Malik, a center board member. He and Dr. Malik are not related.
Imran Malik said that while interfaith cooperation has been more successful in urban areas, progress also has been made in increasing understanding in the suburbs of Hilliard and Dublin. Noor and several churches in the area formed the Safe Alliance of Interfaith Leaders last year to hold events and perform community-service projects.
“One thing that we often discuss is that we as human beings, we are very similar in a lot of ways,” he said. “Our differences are very few, but our similarities are multitude.”
Khan said he has found non-Muslims eager to learn about the faith through his work organizing an annual interfaith symposium and speaking to professional groups and churches in the Columbus area.
“I’ve personally found people in Ohio to be very open to learning more about this faith that they hear so much about every day via various media reports,” Khan said. “Understandably, some are suspicious and have a somewhat negative view of the religion, but the fact that they are willing to listen, engage in dialogue and be respectful is noteworthy.”
Muslims begin their first full day of fasting today for the Islamic month of Ramadan. The month lasts until Eid al-Fitr on Aug. 8. Facts about the observance:
• Ramadan is the ninth lunar month of the Islamic calendar; it begins about 11 days earlier each year. Throughout the month, healthy adult Muslims abstain from food, drink and other sensual pleasures from sunrise until sunset each day and read as much as possible from the Islamic holy book, the Quran.
• Each evening at sunset, Muslims hold an iftar, or a fast-breaking, with their families and communities, often starting with traditional dates and water and then having a meal. The fast-breaking also includes prayer.
• Fasting became obligatory for Muslims in the year 624. It is called for in the Quran as a way to learn self-restraint. Muslims believe fasting helps them gain compassion for the needy, self-purification, discipline and a spiritual focus.
• Fasting is one of the “five pillars” of Islam. The others are a declaration of faith, daily prayers, charity and making a pilgrimage to Mecca.
• Events during Ramadan:
The Council on American-Islamic Relations-Columbus will have an interfaith Ramadan fast-breaking at 8 p.m. on July 19 at the Downtown YWCA, 65 S. 4th St. Details at 614-451-3232
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, 3360 Toy Rd. in Groveport, will have an interfaith panel discussion and iftar at 7 p.m. on July 27. Details at 614-745-7878 or firstname.lastname@example.org .
The Lahore Ahmadiyya Islamic Society will have an intra-faith iftar at 8:15 p.m. on July 27 at Masjidul-Urooj, 7089 Firenza Place in Dublin. RSVP to Fazeel Khan at 216-288-0951.
Source: Council on American-Islamic Relations and sponsoring organizations