Ramadan celebrated locally

As the sun dipped below the horizon Friday evening, Muslim friends and family filed into the Central Illinois Mosque and Islamic Center to celebrate the first day of Ramadan.

The air buzzed with excited chatter at the end of this day of fasting and greetings of “Ramadan mubarak,” or “blessed Ramadan,” could be heard amid the playful shouts of children.

“It’s exciting,” Hanan Jaber, incoming freshman in LAS said. “We believe in this month that Satan is locked up and the gates of heaven are open, so everyone is in that spiritual high.”

Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, began at dawn July 20. During Ramadan, Muslims eat before the sun comes up to sustain themselves for the day-long fast that follows.

Fasting, however, includes more than just turning down food and drink. Muslims must abstain from anything that Allah would consider unlawful, Abdullah Jabbar, sophomore in LAS said. Sexual relations, lying, smoking, and mistreatment of others are all considered especially offensive during the holy days of Ramadan, graduate student Abdelaadim Bidaoui said. In the past, he added, people would be stoned if they were seen eating in public during Ramadan, though that practice is no longer widely accepted.

Under special circumstances, people can be exempt from fasting. Bidaoui’s wife gave birth to a son a week ago, and it would not be healthy for her or her child to fast. Those with health conditions like diabetes and young children are also exempt. Bidaoui said that under special circumstances approved by Muslim legal scholars called Ulama, Muslims can be excused and make up for the lost days of fasting when they are able. Athletes competing in the 2012 Olympics can forego fasting until the games have ended. The important thing is that they do it because Allah directly commands it in the Quran, Jaber said.

Jabbar, Bidaoui and Masrura Faruque, junior in LAS and secretary of the Muslim Students Association (MSA), emphasized that fasting is only one component of participating in Ramadan. Good works like giving to the poor receive extra rewards in Allah’s eyes during this time. In addition to the usual obligatory prayer five times a day, Muslims have the opportunity to pray a total of nine times.

On Friday evening, strings of breathless Arabic prayers call Muslim worshippers to their knees on the aqua carpet, their bows directed by the cadence of the familiar prayer and their empty stomachs filling them with anticipation for the Iftar, the meal that breaks their fast.

The men pray closely in rows at the front of the room, while the women in the back touch the vibrant blues, bright oranges and deep fuchsias of their head scarves to the floor as children weave restlessly in and out among them.

Despite separation of the sexes to avoid bodily contact and impure thoughts during prayer, the Muslim community experiences a large amount of unity during the month of Ramadan.

“Islam is a religion of brotherhood and sisterhood,” Jaber said. “So we’re encouraged to pray and break our fast together.”

For many families and Muslim communities, this means sharing meals in each others’ homes. The Central Illinois Mosque and Islamic Center is one of the few mosques where a family hosts the Iftar in the mosque after prayer, Jaber said.

Each night, a different family prepares cuisine from their native country for roughly 250-300 people, said Mohammed Sobhy, fourth year graduate student.

Prayer provides another way for Muslims around the world and within communities to connect year-round and during Ramadan. MSA is currently sponsoring a “30 in 30 Ramadan Challenge,” which encourages worshippers to memorize one verse every day of one of the holiest parts of the Quran, called “al-mulk,” Jabbar said. Muslims believe that this part of the surah, or chapter, will “protect them from the torment of the grave,” Faruque said. The goal is that by the end of the month, those who participate in the challenge will have each of the 30 verses memorized in Arabic.

“Muslims have a tradition of memorizing the holy text,” said Ahmad Elkhatib, senior in Engineering and president of MSA. “That book has been unaltered and untouched, and much of it is passed down through oral tradition.”

For those like Jabbar, whose native language is not Arabic, the reward from Allah is even greater, Jaber said, because they must understand it in their own language and be able to recite it in Arabic.

MSA has created a Facebook page for the event, where participants can post helpful online memorization tools and encouraging words for each other. Currently, the event has 75 participants. Using social media is another way for Muslims to feel a sense of community during Ramadan, Faruque said. It also reflects the prevalence of the social aspect of the holiday.

At mealtime, in their shared hunger pangs, or deep in prayer, their unity during Ramadan brings ultimately brings them closer to God.

“At the end of every night after the meal, someone will make a supplication or request to God a prayer,” Elkhatib said. “It’s very powerful for me because you let your guard down and sometimes people will cry; you have a building full of people standing there with a very direct connection between them and God.”