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The holy month of Ramadan is set to begin later in May and will see Muslims all over the world participate by observing a fast throughout the daylight hours, refraining from even water for the most observant. The month of abstinence, this year from May 26 to June 24, (concluding with Eid al-Fitr) is not just a restraint. Ramadan is a practice of self-restraint all around.
The end of Ramadan is marked by a three-day feast known as Eid al-Fitr, during which families and friends will come together and celebrate. In 2017, Eid falls on Sunday, June 25th.
Although Islam in America is seen as a fairly recent arrival, that’s not necessarily true. The first Muslims to celebrate Ramadan in the country were actually Muslim slaves brought here during the Antebellum Period—approximately 15–30% of slaves in the country were Muslim. In today’s America, African Americans are still a large part of the Muslim community, along with people of South Asian and Arab descent.
In the U.S., Muslim Americans of different backgrounds and cultures will be observing this holy month in various ways, including fasting throughout the day, breaking the fast with a traditional iftar at sunset, attending community mosque prayers, and getting together with family and friends.
Islamic centers around the country typically invite members of the community to take part in traditional prayers and ceremonies both morning and night during the Ramadan period and sometimes even plan family-friendly activities over the weekend. Some Islamic centers stay open all the time, so it can be easy to visit one and worship, with a skilled reciter of the Quran generally conducting the prayers. Often, these centers also hold lectures in the mosque so that there are ways to introspect and rekindle the faith.
To break the fast, traditional iftar dinners may also be enjoyed with other people, with many mosques and volunteers providing refreshments. Even some restaurants participate, with many families choosing to go to a restaurant to break the fast a few times during the holy month. Even as a non-Muslim, visiting a restaurant that is participating is a great way to experience a traditional iftar dinner and meet with the local Muslim community. On the menu, you can find everything from American food to choices from Southeast Asia, Arab countries, Africa, and Europe. It’s truly a gastronomic feast.
Another important aspect of this month is charity. Many Muslims will increase not just their prayers but also their charity and contributions back to the community and their faith.
For Eid, a grand celebration takes place with multiple events, depending on the strength and involvement of the community. Cities with larger Muslim populations may start with an “Eid Bazaar” where there will be Eid gifts, souvenirs, and Islamic books and accessories. An all-day fun fair with food, entertainment, and lots of fun may also take place to celebrate the day of Eid.
During this time, many non-Muslims accompany their Muslim family or friend to a meal, and many universities, schools, and even restaurants invite guests to experience the food and spirituality of the month. Political and civil leaders also use this time to acknowledge the contributions of American Muslims and visit centers in their neighborhoods.
Although Eid is not marked by a national holiday in the country, many Muslims will choose to take the day off from work or school and celebrate with their families.
Ramadan in America brings together a great sense of community and pride, and it is unique here, just like it is unique in other countries. And while it may be a time for stomachs to stay empty, the hearts are definitely full. It is also a time when we appreciate our Muslim colleagues and friends more than usual, watching them observe the daily fast while still maintaining their energy levels and their commitment—the challenge of going about with school, work, and regular life as usual.