By Mary O’KEEFE
For the past 10 years the Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge has held its Ramadan Interfaith Potluck Iftar, inviting the public and especially members of churches in the area.
Each year the Islamic Congregation members share with those outside their religion what the time of Ramadan means to them as a way of building a bridge of understanding. Typically there are mentioned acts of violence made in the name of their religion. Islamic Congregation members take the opportunity to offer the core concepts of the Islamic faith, which are peace, love, community and a great respect for life.
Ramadan is a time of fasting and reflection. The faithful fast from dusk to dawn and, much like the time of Lent for Christians, it is a time for reflection. And as Lent is a time to spend with the Bible, Ramadan is a time for Muslims to read the Quran.
“It is a [season] to say more prayers, prayers for our community,” said Levent Akbarut, member of the Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge.
Every year the congregation celebrates Humanitarian Day, which takes place the third Sunday of Ramadan.
“For the first time we are partnering with the La Cañada Presbyterian Church [for Humanitarian Day],” Akbarut said.
This year the Islamic Congregation is partnering with La Cañada Presbyterian Church and the Masjid Al-Taqwa Mosque in Altadena to support homeless programs in Pasadena.
This is not the first time the Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge has partnered with LCPC; in March a forum was held where Islam was discussed and questions from the audience answered. The Congregation has had joint social functions with LCPC as well.
Working with other faiths is nothing new for the Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge. For the past 10 years they have reached out to all churches and all faiths with their potluck events. They have volunteered hundreds of hours for projects like Habitat for Humanity, working alongside community members of various faiths.
“We also do Run for the Hungry (in La Cañada) and our interfaith Baccalaureate in La Cañada,” Akbarut said.
They also raise money and support child refugees from Syria, Palestine and Gaza.
Unfortunately, during this most revered time of Ramadan and the ongoing work done within and outside of the Muslim community, this season was tainted with violence and, once again, those of the Islamic faith had to make a stand against violence to defend their religion against ignorance.
Early Sunday morning a reportedly “home grown” terrorist armed with an assault rifle and a pistol killed 49 people and wounded 53 in an attack inside a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. The New York-born terrorist reportedly claimed allegiances to Islamic extremists. The FBI continues its investigation.
“The tragedy early Sunday morning really struck deeply within the Muslim community, the LGBT community and the rest of the country,” Akbarut said.
He added this hate crime was heartbreaking; but then there was the added layer of hurt because the perpetrator had “some sort of an Islamic identification, perverted as it was.”
“The Muslim [community] needed to come out and make a special statement,” he said.
They did that through the Islamic Center of Southern California in partnership with Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace (ICUJP) that hosted an interfaith vigil against violence and hatred. The candlelight vigil on Monday evening included members from several faiths, the Los Angeles Police Dept. and the LGBT community.
There was a strong police presence onsite for security. Akbarut pointed out that one thing the extremists do not like is those of the Islamic faith speaking out against this violence.
“I think Muslim extremists of all things they would despise would be Muslims themselves delegitimizing their actions,” he said.
The tragedy in Orlando hit the Muslim community hard in many ways, not only with the senseless attack against the LGBT community and the tragic loss of so many lives and so many injured, but the violence occurred during Ramadan – the time of reflection, peace and understanding.
Akbarut said that it also happened during a time when many Muslims were still mourning the loss of Muhammad Ali.
“It added another layer of anguish,” he said. “The loss of the world’s most famous Muslim person. [Ali] was a great ambassador, making [our] religion of Islam dignified … He was so adored for being an American and being a Muslim.”
Akbarut, along with his family, his congregation and his community, will continue to honor the Ramadan season by reaching out to others to help, to educate and to pray for the victims of violence.