On Friday, May 26, worshippers gathered in the main prayer hall at the Islamic Center of Cedar Rapids to perform the first night prayer in the month of Ramadan.
For ritual purposes, Muslims (like Jews and others) follow a lunar calendar to determine the beginning and end of each month. Although most Muslim congregations follow a pre-calculated lunar calendar, observing the birth of a new moon remains a magical experience that many just won’t give up, regardless of the comfort and certitude that the pre-calculated calendar offers.
Since becoming the Imam, I got into the habit of climbing up the minaret at the Cedar Rapids Islamic center looking anxiously for the new moon on the first night of Ramadan, though my view had always been blocked by trees and houses. It is the effort that counts, after all. The birth of the new moon and the beginning of new months, and cycle of time in general, is associated with themes of hope, renewal, and change.
That is how I do explain Ramadan to people who are not familiar with it. It is a month of renewal, a month of reflection, and most of all, a month of hope. Ramadan is a time for Muslims to fast from food, water, negative speech, and other distractions from dawn till sunset. Giving up food and water is not the end, it is only a means of engaging in a process of spiritual retreat and introspection in search for meaning, faith, and spiritual serenity.
The pace of life does not seem to be getting any slower. The news, nationally and internationally, doesn’t seem to be getting any more positive or uplifting. Muslims, locally, nationally, and internationally have been in the spotlight throughout the election season and beyond. All of these factors make Ramadan this year a much anticipated guest.
The point of fasting is to get to know ourselves on a deeper level, with the hope that self knowledge and acceptance will help us to become better people, better partners, better friends, better parents, better spouses, better neighbors, better in our relation with God, with ourselves, with the natural world, with people we love and people we don’t, with people with whom we agree and those with whom we disagree.
Every Ramadan I try to fast for a cause. Last year, it was to honor the memory of my late mother-in-law. This Ramadan, I am fasting for love, peace, hope, and unity. This Ramadan, I fast to confront fear with friendship and hatred with love. This Ramadan, I fast and vow to connect with people who may seem different from me. This Ramadan, I fast and vow to listen to and have empathy with those with whom I disagree. This Ramadan, I fast and vow to spread seeds of kindness and words of gentleness whenever, wherever, and to whomever I can.
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This Ramadan, as I feel the hunger and thirst throughout the days of Ramadan, I vow to share the suffering of those hungry and thirsty unwillingly all year long, here and around the world. This Ramadan, I fast and pray for a better world for us and all the generations to come. Muslims believe that when the fasting person breaks their fast at sunsetting, a prayer and a wish is granted. As I break my fast, I pray for unity in our country.
• Hassan M. Selim is Imam of the Islamic Center of Cedar Rapids and vice president of the Inter-Religious Council of Linn County