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September 13, 2009

Learning about Ramadan, Islam

By Michelle Martin


Hundreds of Chicago-area Catholics and Muslims sat down to eat together on Sept. 1 in the 11th annual Interfaith Iftar, hosted this year by the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview.

The iftar, or breaking of the fast that follows Muslims’ sunrise-tosunset Ramadan fast, includes a quick snack, usually of dates, as soon as the sun slips below the horizon, followed by evening prayers and a festive meal.

The Interfaith Iftar, organized by the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, is hosted by different Islamic faith communities every year.

This year, before the breaking of the fast, the associate director of the Mosque Foundation, Sheik Kifah Mustapha, offered a short information session about Islam, Ramadan and the work of the Mosque Foundation for the non- Muslims in attendance.

Mosque Foundation director and imam Sheik Jamal Said spoke at the banquet about the role of fasting during Ramadan. For observant Muslims, the fast means abstaining from food, liquids, sexual relations and behavior such as cursing, speaking in anger and arguing from dawn to dusk throughout Ramadan, the ninth month of the lunar Islamic calendar. This year, Ramadan began on Aug. 20.

“By depriving the soul of life’s basic necessities for some hours, one learns self-control through fasting,” Said said.

The other side of the Ramadan fast is the obligation for Muslims to feed the hungry, especially during Ramadan, to give their money to good causes and to open their homes to friends and neighbors for the evening meal.

“By kindly accepting our invitation, you have given us a blessed opportunity to share with our neighbors and friends,” Said said to the assembled guests, who included several local public officials and political figures, representatives from Jewish synagogues, the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints and non-Catholic Christian denominations.

Cardinal George was scheduled to attend, but had to send his regrets after overseas travel left him feeling under the weather. Father Thomas Baima, provost of the University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary, delivered the cardinal’s remarks.

The cardinal thanked the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago and the Islamic Society of North America for issuing statements condemning violence against Christians in Pakistan in early August.

Those statements called for “American-Muslims to speak out with one voice, unequivocally, that the murders of Pakistani Christians and the destruction of property in Gojra is an injustice and that those responsible for these crimes must be brought to justice,” according to the council’s Aug. 6 press release.

In its own Aug. 3 press release, ISNA said that it “holds the law and order authorities in the region responsible for these tragic riots. The Pakistani government should take responsibility, apologize to the victims for its failure to provide protection, bring the perpetrators to justice, and provide relief and support to victims.”

Eight Pakistani Christians were killed and a number of Christian homes, and at least one church, were burned in rioting that followed reported insults to the Quran.

On the themes for the iftar, which included the environment and the economy, Cardinal George’s remarks drew parallels with Pope Benedict VVI’s recent encyclical, “Caritas in Veritate,” or “Charity in Truth,” which touched on the same topics.

“No matter what topic the pope writes about, he relates it to truth,” the cardinal wrote.

Why fast during Ramadan?

“Along with prayer, another important form of worship is fasting. It is obligatory for each Muslim, who is an adult of sane mind and physically able, to fast the holy month of Ramadan.

“Ramadan is the month of mercy, repentance and purification, and lasts for a period of 29 or 30 days. During the hours of fasting, which are from dawn until sunset, food and drink and conjugal relations between husband and wife are forbidden.

“There are many lessons to be learned from fasting. We sacrifice physical comfort to endure hunger and thirst. Fasting creates a sense of equality between the rich and the poor. By developing an empathic attitude toward hunger and thirst, fasting makes the wealthy remember the needs of the poor, and impresses a feeling of compassion in their hearts.”