Tough year for Muslims

Tough year for Muslims

As we begin Ramadan, the holiest month for the world”s more than 1 billion Muslims, we recognize what a difficult year it has been. Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories are being torn apart by civil war and sectarian violence.

Pakistan, one of the world”s most populous Muslim countries, is teetering on edge. And the United States is making noises about bombing Iran.

In the wake of these challenges, Muslims seek and find strength in Ramadan.

Over the course of 30 days, from sunrise to sunset, we refrain from food and drink and refocus on strengthening our faith. It is a time of renewal, but also of reflection on the self and its broader surroundings.

Ramadan is a joyous event that transcends the private, and sometimes lonely, fast. Muslims gather with friends and family just before sunset waiting patiently for the go-ahead to dig into copious amounts of elaborate dishes. After more than 12 hours of hunger, food becomes a particularly enticing prospect.

After the meal, many filter out to nearby mosques to take part in Tarawih, a special prayer where, each night, congregants read parts of the Quran, the Muslim holy book, hoping to complete all 114 chapters by the end of the month.

Diverse bunch

Fasting in a country where Muslims make up a tiny minority is a distinct experience, one that adds another layer to the month. At under 2 percent of the population, American Muslims are a scattered and diverse bunch. Ramadan brings us closer together. Not only that, Ramadan is also a time to share our religious and cultural heritage with our Christian, Jewish and Hindu friends.

One important aspect of Islam that we like to share is its strong social-justice component. For instance, during Ramadan, many mosques and Muslim organizations organize community-wide fasts where businesses pledge to donate a dollar to a charity for each person who participates in the fast on a given day. A popular slogan for these events is, “Will you go hungry for one day so someone else won”t have to?”

Ramadan provides a welcome opportunity for Muslims and non-Muslims alike to become better acquainted with rich fabric of religious observance that makes America so unique.

Unfortunately, some of this richness has come under attack in the post-9/11 era. Anti-Muslim sentiment has been on the rise. Some commentators speak incessantly of a clash of civilizations, while stoking fear about “fifth columns” and the impending Islamization of the West.

In these troubled times, Ramadan takes on added importance, a time for coming together in the face of conflicts that threaten to tear us — and the world — apart.

Shadi Hamid is director of research at the Project on Middle East Democracy in Washington. The writer wrote this for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.