Muslims observing Ramadan

Fasting: During the holy period, those who follow Islam abstain from eating, drinking and intimate relations between dawn and dusk.

October 15, 2004|By Tawanda W. Johnson | Tawanda W. Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

As Muslims around the world prepare for a month-long fast in honor of Ramadan, those with local ties say the observance is also a way to highlight the charitable acts of those who follow Islam.

The first day of Ramadan is today, as the first sighting in North America of the new crescent moon occurred last night. Ramadan is observed because Muslims believe it is the month in which Allah revealed the Holy Quran to the prophet Muhammad.

Throughout the month, Muslims abstain from eating, drinking, intimate relations and vain talk, among other things, between dawn and dusk.

It is also a time to "awaken compassion and solidarity with others and in particular with the poor," wrote author Abdul Wahid Hamid in Islam: The Natural Way.

"The goal is obedience to God," said Sayed Hassan, who is organizing Ramadan prayer services for Dar al-Taqwa, a mosque in Columbia. "We just submit ... and abstaining will empower you and give you self-control."

Irfan Malik, a member of the board of directors of the Howard County Muslim Council, said the observance will also help promote the good deeds of those who practice Islam. He estimates that there are 8,000 to 10,000 Muslims in Howard County.

"We do an annual food drive and collect over 10,000 pounds of food and give it to the homeless," Malik said. "We also go and package food for Meals on Wheels out of Baltimore."

Malik added that the council works with a soup kitchen in Washington to help the hungry and has held health fairs to promote wellness in the community.

"The Muslim population is very skilled and educated ... with medical doctors primarily, and in conjunction with Howard County Hospital, we advertise in the paper for a health fair where people can receive blood [pressure] checks and mammographies," he said.

Although promoting good will is inherent to Islam, Muslims say doing so also helps to erase the negative image of Muslims as possible terrorists.

"When we meet someone at the supermarket, it's OK, but the general [negative] perception is still out there," Malik said.

According to a survey released this month by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based Islamic advocacy group, one in four respondents believed anti-Muslim stereotypes and 32 percent made negative comments when asked what came to mind when they heard the word Muslim.

Educating the public about Muslims is key to overcoming such perceptions, Malik said.

"We're working with the school system to establish good relationships, and we're also working with the county police chief and fire chief," he said.

Hassan, of the Dar al-Taqwa mosque, said he expects about 600 people to attend prayer services from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. on the first night of Ramadan at Owen Brown Interfaith Center.

Dar al-Taqwa will have a new home next spring after a $1.6 million mosque is built on the land where the current mosque is located.

Fasting, as described in the Quran, is obligatory during Ramadan "so that you may attain Taqwa, or God-consciousness," Hassan said.

The month is also described as a period of intense reflection and devotion that involves seeking guidance and forgiveness and reading the Quran.

Hassan said that although Muslims are fasting, they are still supposed to work to the best of their abilities.

"During the day, everybody still works and should not deprive their employers of work," he said, adding that in Muslim countries the workday is shortened during Ramadan.

Children also fast, but may do so for only a half-day, he said.

"Children begin practicing fasting around 7 years old ... and by 11 or 12, they may fast for half a month," Hassan said.

Muslims who are elderly, sickly, pregnant or breast-feeding do not fast, but are required to feed a poor person or give money to feed the hungry.

"You have to be more generous and give to the needy," he said.

Hassan said that while Muslims are fasting, they are gaining empathy for those who are less fortunate.

"You share the feeling toward those who are hungry," he said.

Muslims pray five times a day, and during Ramadan the length of the night prayer is extended.

Hassan said Muslims are also expected to read the entire Quran, which is about 800 pages.

After Ramadan is over, Muslims are "charged, like a battery," Hassan said.

Another prayer service will be held at Owen Brown Interfaith Center from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Nov. 13, Hassan said.

The Eid ul-Fitr, a festival marking the end of the observance, is also held, with Muslims breaking their fast and declaring happiness at being spiritually uplifted during the observance.

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