By Michael J. ARVIZU
The holy month of Ramadan is being observed by Muslims all over the world this summer. The holy month began in mid-July and will end in late August, according to our Gregorian calendar.
“Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. (The month preceding Ramadan is Sha’aban; and the month following Ramadan is Shawwāl.) The holy month begins on 1 Ramadan and lasts 29 or 30 days. Whether Ramadan is 29 or 30 days depends on the lunar cycle,” said Islamic Congregation member Mohamed Rady. The month of Ramadan has no association with the Gregorian calendar.
Ramadan commemorates the moment God presented the Prophet Muhammad with the Koran, the Islamic holy book. And it is written in the Koran itself that the month of Ramadan should be set aside for fasting, or sawm. Sawm is the fourth of the Five Pillars of Islam. The end of Ramadan is known as Eid ul-Fitr.
Sawm is observed during the daytime. At iftar, or evening meal, the fast is broken, and the faithful can eat and drink anything they want. Fasting begins anew at the moment of the first prayer, or Fajr, the following morning. A morning meal, suhur, can be eaten at dawn before Fajr.
Muslims from the Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge invited the public Friday night to partake in the iftar, held in the Community Center of La Cañada Flintridge auditorium, where an eclectic array of Middle Eastern foods and desserts were served. The fast was broken immediately following evening prayers.
“Ramadan is a great month to get people together,” said Rady. “We usually don’t eat by ourselves. It’s really a family getting together in a spiritual environment, whether it’s reading the Koran or in a social event.”
Although sawm is one of the challenges of Ramadan, for some Muslims it is only a minor challenge. The real challenge is to use the time of fasting to reflect on how to improve oneself, as well as dedicating time throughout the day to reading the Koran and reciting additional prayers.
“It’s meant to be a relief, not a burden. A lot of people see it as a burden,” said La Cañada High School graduate and UCLA global studies student Maryam Nouh, who was invited to read from the Koran the specific passage that speaks about Ramadan. Nouh also gave a short speech on what Ramadan means for her.
“Ramadan is meant to give you strength, but not to break you. It does seem like a sacrifice; you are sacrificing your energy. It’s hard in the beginning, but if you keep in mind why you are doing it, it becomes so much easier.”
Ramadan has given Nouh time to reflect on her own faults and how to improve, whether it is by reading more of the Koran, reciting additional prayers throughout the day or observing the daily fast.
“It’s just having my actions line up more with my beliefs,” said Nouh. “I feel like I’ve come out stronger. Ramadan isn’t a goal, it’s what it instills in you. It prepares you for the upcoming year.”
During sawm, the individual learns sacrifice, charity and self-discipline, becomes spiritually stronger, and observes fellowship with fellow Muslims.
“If I’m getting mad quickly during Ramadan, I shouldn’t. All those little things that we do sometimes that’s not right to do, we’re supposed to restrain ourselves,” said Rady.
“Fasting has always been a part of trying to grow your spiritual life,” said Jim Milley, La Cañada Presbyterian Church associate pastor of outreach and equipping.
Muslim khateeb, spiritual healer, author and lecturer Dawud Abdullah was the featured guest speaker at this year’s community iftar. In his talk, Abdullah discussed the concept of fasting, or understanding, “what the fasting is supposed to produce from the human being, its purpose,” said Abdullah.
“The concept of fasting is the concept that says let’s acknowledge the body and what it needs, wants and desires,” said Abdullah. “The mind can say that the body doesn’t need all that food. But the body can affect the mind, so I’ll go get another plate, and another, and another.”
Abdullah points to a balance and interconnectivity that exist between the body, mind and spirit. This balance, he said, can be achieved through the discipline of fasting; once this balance has been achieved, he said, one can live a more harmonious life, free of overindulgence.
“Allah prescribed this fasting for you as he prescribed it to those who came before you,” said Abdullah, “so that you can be conscious of God, but more than that, understand this creation that you have – mind, body and spirit – and how they are working together.”
The annual iftar at the community center is not an exclusive event. Leaders from denominations across the community are invited to attend.
“Here’s a Muslim community reaching out to non-Muslims, saying, ‘Come and get to know us,’” said the Rev. C.L. “Skip” Lindeman, pastor of La Cañada Congregational Church. “This is our third or fourth one, maybe more.”
Coming to the event gives people a chance to interact with members of another religion, an interaction they wouldn’t otherwise have, said Lindeman.
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