Some of us may have noticed recently that our friend hasn’t come to class with his regular latte in the morning, or that one of our co-workers has started skipping lunch. This could be because they are celebrating Ramadan, a holiday currently being celebrated by Muslims all over the world. Although the history and practices of Ramadan are complex and diverse across cultures and countries, having a general understanding of this major holiday can only enhance our ability as Kansas Citians to engage with others as culturally and internationally aware citizens.
The month of Ramadan occurs at different times every year, as its beginning depends on the sighting of the crescent moon. This year, Ramadan lasts from Thursday, May 17, until Thursday, June 14. The holiday is meant to be a time to focus less on one’s physical condition and more on one’s spiritual condition, and its observance is one of the five main principles, or pillars, of Islam. In order to promote discipline and enhance one’s spiritual experience during Ramadan, adult Muslims are required to fast from sunrise to sunset every day for a month, unless they are sick, pregnant, elderly, breastfeeding, menstruating, or traveling. Fasting in this context means abstaining from eating, drinking, taking drugs of any kind, engaging in sexual relations, cursing, and even lying. One question many Muslims often hear is, “So you can’t even drink water?” The answer is yes, Muslims who are fasting do not drink water from the end of Suhur, the last meal before the fast begins at dawn, until Iftar, the big meal breaking the fast at sunset. Although I am not Muslim, I have several Muslim friends, and I voluntarily joined them in fasting for a week this year as a challenge to myself and as a new cross-cultural experience. While taking part in Ramadan this year in Kansas City, we began fasting around 4:30 a.m. each day and broke our fast around 8:30 p.m., enduring one of the longest possible fasts Muslims can face due to the time of year.
Ramadan is a time of increased prayer and worship, of increased generosity and charity to the poor, of spiritual reflection, and of togetherness with friends and family. Muslims are encouraged to read the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam, and many Muslims attempt to read the entire thing within the month. Mosques also usually hold daily recitations of the Qur’an, called Taraweeh, that Muslims are encouraged to attend in order to foster a deeper devotion to Islam and connection with Allah (God). Muslims in Kansas City can attend Iftar meals, daily Taraweeh, and five daily prayers at several local mosques, including the Islamic Society of Greater Kansas City Masjid, Masjid Al-Khair, and the Johnson County Islamic Center. Muslims end the month of fasting with a holiday called Eid-al-Fitr, where they often feast, visit family and friends, and engage in other celebrations according to the culture.
Although not every Kansas Citian may have had the chance to make Muslim acquaintances or friends, a large part of the Kansas City community identifies as Muslim. While life in Muslim-majority countries often slows down to accommodate altered eating schedules and religious observances of Ramadan, American Muslims, and Kansas City Muslims, bear the difficulties of Ramadan while having to continue to meet the expectations of daily American life. Many teachers, business owners, government employees, students, mothers, fathers, and others who contribute to the success of Kansas City are a part of the local Muslim community. Therefore, by understanding the basic purpose and practices of Ramadan, we show that we value and promote inclusion, respect, and cross-cultural awareness in our diverse city.
About the Author
Lilah Wilder is the communications intern at the IRC. She is double majoring in Global & International Studies and French and double minoring in Middle Eastern Studies and Arabic at the University of Kansas.