Ramadan Around the World, US
- The faster becomes more in tune with what is taking place on the
inside and is in a better position to address his emotional and
Ramadan: A Time Of Self-Awareness
Yahya Abdul Rahman
Sept 28, 2007
Among other things, Ramadan provides us with an opportunity to become
more self-aware. When I say self aware I mean a conscious awareness of
psychological activity that is taking place below one's conscious
discernment. At one level, food, drink and sex are basic human needs
which are a great blessing from Allah. But these same things can be
instrumental in emotional repression where one indulges in them with a
view to distracting oneself from painful or frightening emotions
taking place on the inside that is at the unconscious level of one's
I can reflect back on my own life and see how that my constantly
running to the fridge or becoming obsessed with sexual thoughts have
helped me to emotionally cope with sorrow, loneliness and even
unconscious rage. At a conscious level I did not wish to deal with
these emotions as they were potentially so overwhelming so they
were repressed deep inside my unconscious mind. To ensure that these
emotions do not escape into my conscious awareness, over the course of
my life I developed habits which would distract my attention away from
Food, drink and sex are the most primal needs of one's existence, but
when one becomes obsessed with these things to the point they
control one's life then this is a sure sign that something is taking
place in the unconscious mind that is quite disturbing and is
threatening to surface into one's conscious awareness. In fact, any
form of obsession can be instrumental in emotional repression.
This is where the blessing of Ramadan comes in. For an entire month
one is called upon to deny their bodily desires food, drink and sex
from dawn until sunset. At the same time the fasting person is
encouraged to become more introspective and strive to become more
submissive to Allah. During this month the faster does not have the
distraction of food, drink and sex, thus reducing the barrier between
him and his ability to become more self-aware. The faster becomes more
in tune with what is taking place on the inside and is in a better
position to address his emotional and spiritual needs because food,
drink and sex are no longer acting as buffers between his conscious
mind and his unconscious mind.
This is a month when we can ask Allah to make us more aware of our
weaknesses and shortcomings. This is a month when we can dig deep into
ourselves and discover who we are. This is a month of re-evaluating
what direction we wish our lives to take. This is a month of inward
purification and submission to Allah.
As we emerge from this month and celebrate the Eid we can even be more
conscious of how an over indulgence in and obsession with food, drink
and sex among other things serve to alienate us from our true
selves and the spiritual blessings which accompany living a wholesome
and balanced life. In this sense, Ramadan is a time of correcting an
imbalance which may have crept into our lives and we are brought back
into focus of the true purpose of our existence.
Ramadan is a great blessing indeed!!!
Yahya Abdul Rahman is the Editor of Montreal Muslim News. This year he
is observing his 15th Ramadan. In fact, he was fasting when he
embraced Islam on February 21, 1993. He can be reached at:
montrealnews @ gmail.com
Yearly observance awakens cherished memories
The KW Record
September 26, 2007
The rich experiences of Ramadan during my childhood in Cairo, Egypt,
date back to the 1950s, but are so vivid and cherished they seem
almost to have happened yesterday. I'm sure that if tried to set down
everything that comes to mind, I could easily fill several gigabytes
of data chips with my memories.
I remember Ramadan as an especially happy time for us as children; we
were too young to fast, but like the children among us today, we
shared fully in all the festivities.
Some of those memories are about traditions that still take place in
my old neighbourhood.
Weeks before Ramadan, the streets of Cairo are transformed. Makeshift
bakeries suddenly appear on numerous street corners, run by freelance
bakers who sell their freshly-made konafa -- a type of shredded wheat
many families buy to cook into a delicious sweet dessert with sugar or
honey syrup, nuts and raisins. With special goodies like this to look
forward to, no wonder we children used to be excited at the approach
You might wonder why even children would so joyfully anticipate a
month known to most of the world only as a time of fasting for
Muslims. But it is also a month-long round of festivities and
socializing, unequalled in most other cultures or religious
traditions. Yes, people do fast during the daylight hours, but they
feast and pray during the evenings.
Besides the temporary corner bakeries, the streets of Cairo are
prepared for Ramadan with colourful twinkling lights and special
decorations. I remember how our excitement and anticipation grew as
the first day of Ramadan approached. At home, everyone would be glued
to their radios for an announcement by the nation's Grand Mufti that
the first of Ramadan would be tomorrow following the sighting of the
moon, which for Muslims officially marks the start of a new lunar month.
It seemed to me then, and now, that in Ramadan every act is turned
into a beautiful social or spiritual event.
One is awakened for Sahoor -- the pre-dawn meal which is taken before
a day of fasting --- by the drumbeating of old Cairo Musaharati,
volunteers assigned to a route of several city blocks in their
neighbourhoods. Their duty every day is to wake the community for
Sahoor at the same time.
Musaharati are usually retired men who get up two hours before
everyone else to walk the dark city streets. In each neighbourhood
they can be heard singing and telling stories to the beat of their
small hand drums. At the end of Ramadan, the Musaharati receive a
well-earned honorarium for their faithful service.
At the sound of the Musaharati, everyone quickly gets ready and takes
the Sahoor meal, because eating must stop when the cannon is heard
from the hills surrounding Cairo. Its boom officially announces that a
day of fasting has begun, during which Muslims can have no liquid or
solid food whatsoever. And a few minutes after the cannon's sound, the
ethereal chanting call for the dawn prayer can be heard, echoing from
several mosques nearby.
When sunset comes, Cairo's cannon resounds once again, marking the end
of fasting; a few minutes later local minarets ring out with the
familiar and welcome call to prayers at twilight.
On weekends I may enjoy the fast-breaking meal of Iftar at the homes
of other family members. Often, 30 or more people will gather in the
same place and their host will treat them to a mouth-watering variety
of delicacies and desserts one can only dream of at other times of the
After Iftar parties, children would often gather around a "fanoos" (or
lantern) to sing traditional Ramadan songs. I also remember us
parading down the street to neighbouring houses in search of sweets,
or going with adult family members to the mosque for special Ramadan
night prayers, the Tarawh.
At other times, children would play soccer in the street with
improvised balls made out of old clothes. Decorative lanterns hanging
from balconies, or held by our friends, would cast a safe and
reassuring glow as we played outdoors.
When the radio became commonplace in Egyptian homes, special programs
were broadcast every day after the fast-breaking Iftar meal. We
listened to a variety of traditional stories, such as excerpts from
the famed One Thousand and One Nights. I remember that there were
trivia question contests and prizes were given to the winners after
Ramadan was over.
When TV and its ever-increasing number of channels took over from
radio and became the leading home entertainment and information
medium, many (too many!) daily Ramadan soap operas were produced in
the Arab world and the quality of their content went down
exponentially. Now, it is a sad affair; today during Ramadan Egyptian
children and families are bombarded with poor TV entertainment. The
excellence and beauty of the broadcasts of my childhood generation
have mostly gone by the wayside.
And that's not the only change I've experienced over the decades.
Today in Cairo, it can be a logistical nightmare to visit relatives
during Ramadan in order to break the fast together --the daily traffic
congestion in Cairo just before and after Iftar time is enormous.
As a child, I used to look forward to 'Eid-ul-Fitr, the extended feast
of breaking the fast at the very end of Ramadan. I don't know how they
did it, but my parents managed to organize things so that my siblings
and I all needed new clothes and shoes at a time coinciding exactly
with 'Eid. It never failed; my clothes and shoes would reach the end
of their life expectancy during that festive last week of Ramadan.
My father had the mandatory task of taking us shopping for new clothes
and shoes. He couldn't get out of it, because all children must wear
something new on the first day of 'Eid. Some, whose parents left
things until the last minute, would be forced to walk around with sore
feet from the pinching of new shoes bought in too much of a hurry.
For our parents, providing new toys came second in importance to
clothes and shoes, but children back then did not mind; it was all
part of an important life-lesson, called "priorities."
Those in need were not forgotten either. My father used to make giving
to the poor a family affair during Ramadan. He would gather us all
together and discuss how we would pay that year's Zakah (poor tax, or
obligatory contribution to charity) and to whom. It was a practical
hands-on lesson that I have never forgotten.
One of our most enjoyable experiences as children was visiting members
of our extended families over the three days of 'Eid. During this
time, we got to collect money from every adult. Even eating sweets and
cookies was secondary to the delight of having some coins of our very
own to spend.
These are just a few of my favourite Ramadan memories, then and now.
If I sound nostalgic about my Ramadans in Cairo, it's because I truly am.
Mohamed Elmasry is national president of the Canadian Islamic
Congress. E-mail: cic @ canadianislamiccongress.com
A bankrupt Ramadan in Gaza
Rami Almeghari, Gaza Strip
Live from Palestine
Sep 18, 2007
A Palestinian man sells dates in preparation for
Islam's holy month of Ramadan in Gaza City, September
2007. (Wissam Nassar/MaanImages)
The situation is desperate here in Gaza, the coastal
strip that is abundant with nothing except human
Just a couple of hours before Iftaar, the time of day
after sunset when Muslims break their fast during the
holy month of Ramadan, Muslims around the globe shop
to prepare. Gaza's crowded Khan Younis is no
However, though they may be thronged with people,
Gaza's markets are lacking any holiday festivity or
commerce. In the middle of Khan Younis' Jalal Street,
shopkeeper Ahmad al-Agha idly sat in silence, playing
with his mobile phone.
"There is no business at all; people are just buying
food and drink only. As you see, few people come to
purchase anything in my shop, while the majority of
them seem to be biding their time before the Iftaar
time is due."
People in the street echoed Ahmad's words, dismayed
over their inability to cope with this year's Ramadan
as the economic siege on Gaza has resulted in high
prices and very low incomes.
"The situation is so miserable. There are many stands,
but the prices of goods are so high we cannot buy all
we need during Ramadan when there are a lot of things
that need to be bought," Sami Abu Taha, a Khan Younis
Jehad Ashour, also from Khan Younis, said, "When my
family needs four different things, I can only afford
one thing because of my financial situation."
"I do blame President Mahmoud Abbas for his inaction
towards improving our living conditions and by letting
many others play with our destiny. As local residents,
we have nothing to do with politics."
The same reaction was voiced by Qassem al-Astal, from
the same city, who expressed his dissatisfaction with
the status quo in Gaza. He too points a finger at
"I blame the Ramallah government for the failing
conditions; President Abbas could do nothing to lift
the Israeli siege. You know, I am neither a Hamas nor
a Fatah supporter."
In the central Gaza Strip town of al-Nusierat, the
scene was no different from that in Khan Younis.
Al-Nuseirat is the largest central Gaza Strip area,
where trade is relatively large.
Naser Ezzat, owner of a roasted chicken restaurant,
was sitting with a few others in front of his shop,
while his stove was still full of chickens but his
restaurant empty of customers.
Nasser sighed, "Let me tell you that the situation is
shit. You see, so far, no single chicken has been
sold. I do blame the Abu Mazen's government [President
Abbas's government in Ramallah], whose inaction has
led us to such a situation."
"The only days I sell my goods are the first two days
of the payment of [governmental] salaries, when [money
is] flowing into the people's pockets," Nasser added.
Right in the middle of al-Nusierat's market, there is
a big sweets shop. Under normal circumstances it would
do brisk business during Ramadan, as during the
special month people like to enjoy sweets after the
Emad Mattar, the owner of the shop, welcomed his
journalist visitors despite his gloomy face. Despite
its big plates of tempting sweets, the shop was devoid
"Believe me, people just browse my shop without
buying; they just while away their time before Iftaar.
In past Ramadans, we used to sell well, but this year,
I can hardly sell 10 kilograms a day. It is a really
By the time I left the sweets shop, I was increasingly
dismayed over the situation my people are going
through; however, in search of a more cheerful story,
I entered a grocery in the central Gaza Strip town of
"High prices, shortage of many goods and a lack of
customers are features of my shop nowadays. If you
compare this Ramadan with other Ramadans, you won't
find any relation. It's really miserable."
Dismay, disappointment and despair are defining this
year's Ramadan thanks to the measures of collective
punishment Israel has imposed on Gaza over the past
three months. Under the guise of security, Israel has
completely closed commercial and travel crossings
following the Hamas-dominated government's takeover of
the Gaza Strip in June.
Gaza, which Israel only views through the lens of
security rather than that of human dignity, is one of
the most densely populated areas in the world with 1.4
million living in 360 square kilometers. With no
natural resources and all industries paralyzed by
Israel's closures, which has also prevented laborers
from accessing jobs in Israel, the population has
become increasingly dependant on UN and other foreign
The international Quartet, comprised of the US, UN, EU
and Russia, has imposed a crippling economic embargo
on the Hamas-dominated government since the group took
power after the January 2006 parliamentary elections,
effectively punishing the West Bank and Gaza's
civilian population for their democratic choice.
Ramadan meal aims to deepen understanding
Unity event will share cultures, aid Lansing food bank
Lansing State Journal
Hate crimes against Muslims are on the increase since 2002, says Dawud
Walid, leader of the Michigan chapter of the Council on
And that makes promoting cross-cultural understanding imperative.
"It's incumbent for us to break out of our comfort zones and to learn
each other's varying cultural and religious practices," Walid said.
He will be the keynote speaker Thursday at a Lansing event that aims
to do just that.
"Building Bridges" is the theme of a Ramadan unity dinner sponsored by
Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero and East Lansing Mayor Sam Singh.
Proceeds from the $15-a-ticket dinner benefit the Greater Lansing Food
"It's an opportunity for everyone in the community to unite together
towards a single goal, which is to support the hungry in our
community. This is the very spirit of Ramadan," said Sadia Gul, who
works in Bernero's office and coordinated the event.
During the holy month of Ramadan, which began Sept. 13 and likely will
end Oct. 13, Muslims around the world put an emphasis on prayer and
works of charity. They fast through daylight hours and break the fast
with festive meals at dusk.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a nationwide civil
liberties group with 33 offices nationwide and chapters in the U.S.
and Canada, compiles a daily report of nationwide news events
Some are good news, focusing on education efforts or cross-cultural
activities and events. But others are troubling: An attack on
worshippers at an Ohio mosque, a family split by a member's
deportation, a New York politician who is quoted as saying the U.S.
has "too many mosques."
Walid recently participated on a state Department of Civil Rights
panel on hate crimes. Besides the harm they do within local
communities, he said hate crimes against Muslims in the U.S. also have
a global impact.
"Hate crimes and civil rights abuses against Muslims in America
tarnish our image in the Muslim world," he said. "When we have had
discrimination cases in Michigan, I've been called by media outlets
from Qatar to Iran."
Key concerns outside of hate crimes often involve U.S. policy after
9/11. Walid says Muslims may face citizenship delays, rushed
deportations and ethnic and religious profiling when crossing the
Many problems would lessen with better communication and interaction
among ethnic and faith communities, he said.
"With greater interaction, we'll see that for the most part we all
have the same common concerns," Walid said. "We all want our children
to have quality education. We all want to live in safe, clean
neighborhoods and we all want to see the state of Michigan progress
economically, as well as become more secure from crime."
Contact Kathleen Lavey at 377-1251 or klavey @ lsj.com.
MUSLIM LEADERS USING RAMADAN TO PUSH ANTI-SMOKING MESSAGE
For nearly 13 daylight hours during Ramadan, Muslims abstain from
eating, drinking and other sensual pleasures.
Many Muslims use the Islamic holy month to temporarily give up a vice
Now, three area Muslim organizations, including physicians groups, are
urging smokers to kick the habit for good.
Ramadan began Sept. 13, per the Islamic lunar calendar, and will
likely end Oct. 12 or soon thereafter with the sighting of the new moon.
"The idea is that addiction is broken a little bit through their
willpower during that month," said Shiraz Malik, executive director of
the Islamic Medical Association of North America, which is based in
Lombard. "It's halfway on the road to where we want them to be. We
want to basically take them down the other half of the road, which is
quitting cold turkey."
The groups are posting fliers and plan educational seminars about the
health hazards of smoking and benefits of quitting at area mosques,
Islamic schools and community centers. The message is targeted at the
estimated 400,000 Muslims in Chicago and the suburbs.
That message is converting 49-year-old Tariq Khawaja of Lincolnwood
from a 14-year smoking habit. Khawaja gave up cigarettes the second
day of this Ramadan.
"The whole day when I was fasting, I did not feel any craving for
smoking," said Khawaja, publisher of the Urdu Times weekly newspaper,
which circulates in Chicago and area suburbs. "And then I thought that
if I can stay a whole day, let's quit for the whole life then."
Historic and contemporary Islamic scholars agree smoking should be
viewed as "haraam," or not permissible under Islamic law, similar to
alcohol or gambling.
Yet unlike alcohol, smoking is not explicitly forbidden anywhere in
the Quran, Islam's holy text. That left room for ambiguity before the
health hazards of smoking became apparent.
"Smoking in general is antithetical to the Islamic ideal of respect
and care for one's body," said Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the
Chicago Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Rehab said narcotics are also not explicitly banned in the Quran, but
scholars agree on their prohibition for the same reason, that it is
bad for the body.
Using religious motivations to change harmful societal behaviors is
not new, said Tariq Cheema, executive director of the Association of
Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America based in Westmont.
The World Health Organization has in the past made a faith-based push
to tackle smoking in the Eastern Mediterranean region. It consulted
leading Islamic scholars on the dilemma and in 1988 published a ruling
that "smoking is either completely prohibited or abhorrent to such a
degree as to be prohibited."
"This is just one way of extending the blessings of Ramadan throughout
the year," Cheema said. "We want to capitalize on (Ramadan) where
everyone is more motivated to be more disciplined and more faithful."
Faith and fasting are helping 27-year-old Genivieve Huston of Island
Lake, an Irish-American convert to Islam, suppress her cigarette
cravings. Huston has been smoking for about four years. She hankers to
light up soon after breaking her daily fast.
"After I eat, I crave a cigarette," she said. "The physical urge is
still there. The discipline that it takes to fast all day long is
helping me with cutting down, smoking less, and just rely more on my
faith to get me through those heavy craving periods."
Huston hopes to lick the habit by the end of Ramadan.
"I think they are one and the same -- our spiritual health and
physical health because everything in the Quran relates to both," she
Tailor the message
Driving this anti-smoking campaign is a concern for societal health,
Leaders say smoking pervades the Muslim community, especially in South
Asian and Mediterranean cultures where hookahs, chewing tobacco and
cigarette smoking are not only socially accepted but believed to be
harmless. It is this perception community leaders are trying to change.
"What we would like to see is smoking becoming less and less of an
acceptable habit for the sake of individual smokers' health, for their
family and the environment," Rehab said.
Mosques will play a role in spreading that message through sermons and
It is a cause worth supporting, said Vaseem Iftekhar, an ex-smoker and
president of Islamic Foundation North mosque in Libertyville.
"It is actually an obligation," Iftekhar said. "Society ills are our
Iftekhar said the mosque conducts Sunday seminars on health topics,
and smoking would be an issue to tackle in that forum. He doesn't
expect resistance from smokers.
"Most people realize that smoking is not a good thing," he said. "It's
a matter of addiction. If (the campaign) encourages will power and
provides a support mechanism to quit, it will be helpful to them. You
can't force them, but the message has to be clear."
However, the heaviest anti-smoking push targets Islamic schools.
Organizers hope to build resistance to smoking at a young age, and
enlist youths as envoys to convince parents and grandparents to quit
"I don't think there can be any better and powerful ambassadors for
the parents than their children," Cheema said. "It's like the
watchdogs at home kind of thing."
The anti-smoking campaign will continue after Ramadan and likely
become a long-term project in the community, Malik said.
"In the United States there are a lot of anti-smoking initiatives, but
we would be remiss if we don't admit that this is a problem within our
own communities," he said.
CAIR-CA: RAMADAN DINNER BREAKS ISLAMIC FAST
Yamada joins area Muslims by not eating for a day
Jim Smith, Daily Democrat
A traditional Iftar dinner was held breaking the fast of Ramadan on
Saturday evening in Woodland.
But the dinner, while sparsely attended, acknowledged more than a
simple recognition of a sacred day on the Islamic calendar. The
gathering signified a month of purification of the heart, a renewed
focus on family and community.
"It's a spiritual bootcamp," said Basim Elkarra, executive director of
the Council on American-Islamic Relations based in Sacramento.
Sponsored by the Muslim community in Woodland and the Woodland Mosque,
the dinner was a way for people in the community to come together and
celebrate the glory of God in addition to recognizing and assisting
the hungry and less fortunate.
Iftar dinners are held at sunset following a day of fasting. Ramadan
itself celebrates the month God first revealed the Qu'ran to the
At sunset, Muslims break their fast momentarily to eat dates, grapes
and other light foods before being called to prayer. After prayers,
the fast is fully broken with a full meal.
Mariko Yamada, chairwoman of the Yolo County Board of Supervisors,
welcomed those attending the ceremony at the Erwin Meier Building in
downtown Woodland, noting the celebration was an opportunity to
understand one another.
Yamada also said she spent the day fasting, but noted there was a
difference between fasting and being hungry. "Not having anything to
eat and not eating are two different things," she said.
She also said that being a little bit hungry during the day makes
Others attending the event included Woodland City Councilman Bill
Marble and his wife Sandy.
Elkarra said Ramadan is a time of building bridges in the community
"and today, building bridges are more important than ever. We have to
learn acceptance of one another and respect for one another ... we
have to learn that we have more in common than we do differences."
Elkarra said even in the Muslim world Ramadan is recognized where "our
brothers and sisters of the Muslim and Jewish traditions will go into
each others' homes to break with one another."
When people come together they learn more about each other Elkarra said.
Aside from breaking fast, Muslims also spend the day in prayer. He
noted that some people feel praying five times a day is too much, but
in his view taking time out of "our busy and hectic scheduled to pray
enables us to get energized, to feel at peace with ourselves before
getting back to work."
"This is a month when we purify our hearts," Elkarra added. "It's a
spiritual bootcamp when we renew our energy for the coming year."
Georgia: PRACTICING ISLAM CAN BE DIFFICULT AT ARMED FORCES INSTALLATIONS
ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE --Talib M. Shareef and Rashad Abdul-Azeem see no
disconnect between their Islamic faith and their jobs at Robins Air
Certainly no mixed loyalties. No lack of purpose or focus. No argument
with the mission.
Chief Master Sgt. Shareef - a 28-year veteran of the Air Force - is
chief of personnel service delivery and field operations for Air Force
Reserve Command. Abdul-Azeem, a civilian employee, works in the Warner
Robins Air Logistics Center's critical software maintenance group.
Both are Muslim lay leaders at the Robins chapel, where about 20
military active duty members attend Friday prayer services with some
frequency along with a few civilian workers and contract employees.
With the global war on terror raging against radical Islamic elements
in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is not easy being Muslim in America. It
can be especially difficult in the military.
And suspicions can be heightened during the current month of Ramadan,
a 30-day period of fasting, prayer and reflection that began Sept. 13.
Shareef, 46, is at peace with his faith and who he is. His chest bears
the military distinctions of exemplary service. He sees no conflict
between his faith and Air Force objectives.
"I love the Air Force. I'm dedicated, very loyal," he said. "This is
home and I'm not going to allow anybody to come in here and tear it
up. There is no disconnect at all for me."
Abdul-Azeem, his black beard sprinkled with gray, is in agreement. He
opposes terrorism and any role played by Islamic groups.
"On a personal level, I reject it in my heart because I know that's
wrong," he emphasized. "It does not represent Islam. When I see
terrorism, I know it has no place in the Quran or in the authentic
practice of the prophet Muhammad. It is strictly condemned and the
people doing that are astray from the message of Islam - very far astray."
Both Shareef and Abdul-Azeem are from Christian backgrounds. Most of
Shareef's family in Wilmington, N.C., were Methodist except for an
uncle who was a Nation of Islam convert.
"The Nation of Islam appealed to African-Americans," Shareef recalled.
"As a churchgoer with the family, everything was white - all the
angels, the gods, everybody was white. But the Nation of Islam did a
reverse psychology. God was black, not white. So that caught my
interest, but I did not accept it initially."
By the time he entered the military in 1979, the American Muslim
movement had changed its focus and scope under the leadership of
"It adopted a more universal form of Islam," Shareef said. "There were
no images, no emphasis on color. One of the first things Wallace did
was say we had an obligation to defend the society that we lived in.
He actually wore the American flag before the whole congregation. So I
learned more and went through advanced training. That's where it began."
Shareef's "universal" beliefs were confirmed and strengthened during a
1994 pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia - referred to as Hadj, one of
the five pillars of the faith. Believers are encouraged to take part
in Hadj at least once in their lives if they can afford it.
"There were people from the whole world there. Not necessarily black,"
Abdul-Azeem, 53, worked for a defense contractor in San Diego before
coming to Robins. He converted to Islam at the age of 19 after what he
said was in-depth study.
"One of my first impressions after getting into the Quran was the
clarity of the message," he said. "I didn't find that clarity in the
Bible. I have a lot of respect for the Bible, but I didn't find that
Both men said they believe people of faith have much in common. "The
pillars of our faith are shared by a number of faiths," pointed out
Abdul-Azeem. "Belief in God. Belief in prayer. Belief in charity."
Shareef said Islam embraces Judaism and Christianity. "You can't be a
Muslim unless you believe in Moses and Jesus," the senior
non-commissioned officer emphasized. "We don't believe in Jesus as the
son of God, but we believe in him and what he brought."
In fact, he said, the Quran requires Muslims to embrace people of
other faiths. "It says, 'Closer to you will you find Christians
because of their faith and love of God. They are people of the book,'
" he said.
Abdul-Azeem said he doesn't view other faith groups as adversaries. "I
see them as a godsend," he offered. "People who truly believe in God
don't find much difference between them when they get down to the core."
Chaplain Glenn Page, a Protestant minister, said facilitating Muslim
worship at the Robins chapel is in line with the strategic vision held
by the Air Force chief of chaplains.
"That vision is glorifying God, honoring airmen and serving all," he
underscored. "So from where we sit, it's about taking care of
everybody as best we can. We are blessed here with lay leaders who can
fill that gap."
The month of Ramadan is a sacred focal point for Muslims around the
world. Shareef believes the monthlong period of reflection allows
Muslims to focus on the basics of their faith.
"Muhammad taught that Adam's first identity was human, not race or
nation," Shareef said. "We all have other labels, but the human
identity is the most important one."
Abdul-Azeem described Ramadan as a time of cleansing, a chance to
reconnect and be more mindful of God.
"It's an opportunity to get reacquainted with the basic nature that
God gave us when we came out of the womb," he contends. "It's a chance
to become more sensitive to our neighbors. To be more charitable."
Both men bristle a bit from the post-9/11 aphorism that "all Muslims
are not terrorists, but most terrorists are Muslim."
Shareef, who spent several years in the intelligence field before
coming to Robins, admits it's a challenge.
"I worked with Muslims who were serving our nation to a significant
degree," he related. "Without them, we would not have made the
progress we've made against the terrorists."
Abdul-Azeem believes the opposition Muslims receive in the U.S. is not
widely shared among Christian groups.
"I know that Christianity doesn't represent the type of extremism
where they attack other groups of people," he said. "So I know they
are not the majority. If they knew us, they would feel differently."
In fact, Shareef contends American Muslims have a unique opportunity
to share their faith, because members of their immediate family often
practice other religions.
"You don't find that in Saudi Arabia or other Muslim countries," he
said. "Nowhere else in history have Muslims had family ties with
non-Muslims. God has set up something here to bring about a pure sense
To contact writer Gene Rector, call 923-3109, extension 239.
MA: JEWISH, MUSLIM STUDENTS BREAK FAST TOGETHER
Members of Harvard's Jewish and Muslim communities broke fasts
together Saturday night to celebrate two of the holiest holidays in
each religion and to highlight the commonalities between the two faiths.
Saturday was the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur, also known as the Day of
Atonement, and Muslims are observing Ramadan, a month which focuses on
charity and religious piety. Both holidays require followers to fast
Batool Z. Ali '10, the treasurer of the Harvard Islamic Society, said
that organizers hoped the event would provide an opportunity to meet
and befriend people of the other faith.
"We wanted to emphasize what is so similar about our faiths, as a
bridge for interfaith understanding," said Islamic Society Vice
President Hasan K. Siddiqi '08.
The break fast occurred at 7:30 p.m., after members of both faiths
completed their prayer services. After dinner, Muslim students held
another set of prayers and invited Jewish students to observe, Siddiqi
said. Students of other faiths were also welcomed at the event.
Neil C. Murthy '08, a Catholic student and the chair of community
service for the Interfaith Council, said he appreciated the meal both
because many of his blockmates are Muslim and because of the good food.
Benjamin K. Glaser '09 joked that he too came to the event because he
was "disappointed by the food at other break fasts."
He added that he thought the event was important because of the
"spirit of intercultural understanding" it promoted.
In a speech before the dinner, Islamic Society President Shaheer A.
Rizvi '08 encouraged those in attendance to make at least one lasting
friendship during the eveningto "leave the politics aside and make a
personal connection" that would facilitate difficult discussions in
Indeed, at every table, members of both faiths sat together to enjoy
their meal and create these relationships.
"I came this year because of the war... there's so much hatred in the
Middle East," said Mia P. Walker '10. "If we can unite here, there's
Rizvi estimated that 150 to 200 peopleincluding undergraduates,
graduate students, professors, and family memberscame to the meal,
which was co-sponsored by the Islamic Society, Harvard Hillel, and the
Harvard Interfaith Council. Siddiqi said this was the third
consecutive year for the event, though students had attended similar
services off and on in the past.
Staff writer Aditi Balakrishna can be reached at
balakris @ fas.harvard.edu.
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