Sharing the Essence of Ramadan
For their weekly staff meeting, Basma Jabbar’s coworkers usually order bagels and donuts. In Ramadan, however, it’s different. They choose not to do so out of respect for their colleague who does not eat or drink from dawn to dusk for one month. But it was not always that way. Over the years, Jabbar subtly introduced fasting which gradually influenced her coworkers’ decision. Her quiet reflection on the Quran during lunch hour and sharing dates and samosas at iftaar, to end the day’s fast, prompted questions and a yearning to know more. Not everyone is fortunate to have such a positive experience, but it comes easier for those who accept religious tolerance as a two-way street. One cannot expect others to bend over backwards without offering mutual respect.
Subtle messaging is also on Sabina Abdul-Qadir’s mind each year when she coordinates a breakfast for the homeless on an early Ramadan morning. As part of the Muslim Womens Alliance “Ramadan Rush for Rewards” program, close to 50 Muslims with hair nets on hijabs (head scarves) make sandwiches, pour milk and serve breakfast to more than 300 hungry men and women of all faiths at Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica in Chicago. The cast and crew of this popular event cook, clean, serve and even organize the pantry.
“As Muslims we are not just responsible for our own community, but for our neighbors too,” said Abdul-Qadir. “Instead of in-your-face preaching, we hope that by seeing us praying Fajr and noticing the banners and T-shirts that say ‘Muslim Womens Alliance’, we can get the message across that Muslims care.”
The event attracts Chicagoans of all ages. If you do not have an organization that plans such events in your town, take the initiative to spearhead your own small project. Ask a local shelter or orphanage if you can bring your friends and family to help serve the needy. Visit www.serve.gov to search by zip code.
Several Muslims also share Ramadan in their children’s classroom with presentations, treats and stories. Plan your visit with the teacher beforehand, check if treats are allowed at all, and tailor the discussion to the age of the kids.
“Try to focus more on culture than religion and take items that appeal to all the senses,” said Nada Asghar of Louisville, KY. “I take henna for the kids to smell, nut-free traditional Lebanese cookies to taste, silver jewelry that jingles and a colorful dishdasha (long dress) to touch.” She also includes a Ramadan word search or coloring sheet for kids to take home in the goody bags she fills with Happy Eid pencils and décor from Silver Envelope (www.silverenvelope.com). Asghar also makes it a point to get a gift for the teacher — usually a practical gift card snuggled in a traditional item like a shawl.
Some of her favorite stories to read in class are “A Party in Ramadan” and “The Best Eid Ever,” both by Asma Mobinuddin. Muslim parents can also work with the teacher or school librarian and gift picture books or fiction novels with Muslim characters to the school or class.
Libraries use display cases to highlight hobbies and holidays. Share the spirit of Ramadan with a display that could include a copy of the Quran with the English translation, dates, a prayer rug, books that patrons can check out on Islam and Muslims, Ramadan balloons and kid-size traditional Eid clothing.
Rafath Waheed has had a Ramadan display at the Lisle Public Library for several years. She suggests contacting the librarian several months in advance to ensure you get your turn in time.
“The moment you give control to the other party, they have the option to refuse,” Waheed said. “Therefore instead of asking if you can put up the display, say, “I would like to put up a Ramadan display, where can I get more information.”
When the Lisle library initially resisted, Waheed’s mostly non-Muslim neighbors signed a petition and accompanied her to the Board meeting. She even got Pastor Lisa Telomen of Grace Methodist Church on board and copied CAIRChicago on all correspondence.
These factors led the library to not only allow the Ramadan exhibit but also order a new case for it and allow subsequent Hajj displays.
“If the library says they do not promote any religious affiliation, tell them that we are not promoting Islam, but are educating the public about our holidays just as other holiday decorations are displayed year round,” said Jamila Yusuf from Markham, IL.
“Keep records of all correspondence with library personnel and take photos of patrons admiring the display as there might be a different decision maker next year,” said Huma Murad of Hickory Hills, IL. The photos can also help you remember the items you included last year.
If the case is already reserved during Ramadan, approach neighboring towns or be proactive and book it for Hajj, Eid ul Adha or an evergreen theme like women in Islam.
Remember to take down the display at the agreed upon time and leave the area neat.
“I always send a thank-you note,” said Yusuf. “But sometimes the librarian’s thank you card arrives before I send mine!”
About the Author: Kiran Ansari is a Chicago-based writer and editor with more than 12 years of experience and bylines in more than 30 publications. She has served as Managing Editor of ‘Chicago Crescent’ and interim Executive Director, CIOGC and can be reached via LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/pub/kiran-ansari-rasul/5/47/b7a.