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Ramadan Around the World, US

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    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. Ramadan: A
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 2, 2007
      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.

      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
      these emotions.

      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
      of Ramadan.

      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
      resident, explained.

      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
      of customers.

      "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
      catastrophic situation."

      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
      agencies' handouts.

      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

      Kathleen Lavey
      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
      American-Islamic Relations.

      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
      involving Muslims.

      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
      U.S.-Canadian border.

      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.


      Madhu Krishnamurthy
      Daily Herald

      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
      -- smoking.

      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."

      Islamic perspective

      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,
      officials said.

      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.


      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
      Prophet Muhammad.

      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
      people sharper.

      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."


      Gene Rector
      Macon Telegraph

      ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE --Talib M. Shareef and Rashad Abdul-Azeem see no
      disconnect between their Islamic faith and their jobs at Robins Air
      Force Base.

      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
      Wallace Muhammad.

      "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,"
      he related.

      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
      of unity."

      To contact writer Gene Rector, call 923-3109, extension 239.


      Aditi Balakrishna
      Harvard Crimson

      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
      until sundown.

      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 evening—to "leave the politics aside and make a
      personal connection" that would facilitate difficult discussions in
      the future.

      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 people—including undergraduates,
      graduate students, professors, and family members—came 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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