On Sunday, exactly as the sun sets over the horizon, the sacred month of Ramadan commences this year.
Ramadan, for Muslims all around the world, is a time of devotion and spirituality. It is a time of fasting and feasting. A time for families and communities to gather in fellowship. For us at the Islamic Center of Cedar Rapids, we wait for the arrival of Ramadan from the moment it ends. What we wait for the most is the night prayers when all members, men and women, young and old, poor and rich, stand alongside each other, foot to foot, shoulder to shoulder, in deep devotion and prayers every single night of the month.
However, the Islamic month of Ramadan comes upon us this year during a very difficult time. Weeks ago, in a mosque in New Zealand, an attack took the lives of tens of Muslims, peacefully worshipping on Islam’s holiest day of the week; Friday. On Easter Sunday, the Christians of Sri Lanka, and around the world, were devastated with a cowardly attack that took the lives of hundreds of faithful worshippers. And just few days ago, and closer to home, yet another attack took aim at a Jewish synagogue during the last day of Passover.
In all of these attacks, the sanctity of life and places of worship were violated in the most violent and vile of ways. It is against this sad and dark background that the crescent moon of Ramadan rises. And it is exactly so why Ramadan this year is different from any other year.
This year, Ramadan is going to be a reminder of hope and sanctity. Hope in God who taught us in the Quran, as well as in scriptures and revelations, to not despair and to arm ourselves against trials and tribulations with hope and faith. As we observe the birth of the new moon, we witness a miracle of renewal and the birth of light. Light has always stood for hope in all religious and human traditions. It is this light of hope that I wish this Ramadan will bring upon us.
Ramadan this year also stands as a reminder for the sanctity of the human soul. The philosophy behind fasting in the Islamic tradition is to remind people that they exist through body and soul. Giving up the food of the physical body allows the fasting person to be reminded that it is not through the body only that we exist, and that not only the body needs nourishment, the soul too is need of nutriment and care. The Quran teaches us that God breathed life into the soul of man, and that is where the sanctity of life comes from.
So, as I begin my fast every dawn this year, I will be renewed in hope. As I break my fast every evening this year, I will vow to be a source of hope to all people. As I take care of my soul through fasting, prayers, and various acts of devotion, I will remind myself of the sanctity of every and each human life.
• Imam Hassan Selim leads the Islamic Center of Cedar Rapids.