The Islamic month of Ramadan is at an end, and right about now many Muslims across the world are celebrating Eid-ul-Fitr – the biggest celebration of the year – as well as expressing sadness at having bid adieu to a time full of blessings. The repetition of fasting and praying is such in this month that many events blend into each other, seemingly endlessly and with the danger of being forgotten. Here then, is a roundup of what occurred in the United States in the month of Ramadan and how it affected the millions of Muslims in this country.
Ramadan commenced in the early days of July this year, and the media began reporting this Muslim practice from the very first fast. Like every year, a number of publications gave the run-down of fasting basics which probably was beneficial to many people not acquainted with Muslims personally. The Atlantic published a very moving set of images of fasting Muslims from around the world. Interestingly, as the general public’s knowledge and interest of this month increased, so did commercialization of it, with mainstream corporations such as McDonalds and Godiva offering deals and incentives and Muslim-owned businesses reaping profits.
At the same time, something as universally Islamic in nature as Ramadan predictably brought out the beast of Islamophobia within many. Perhaps the most high profile case of negative publicity revolving around Ramadan occurred across the pond in the U.K. when a news channel took “the conscious decision to shock and inform the British public by airing the Islamic call to prayer (adhan)”. Predictably, debate raged across the continents about the appropriate and inappropriate methods for Muslims to assimilate into western society.
As a counteraction that ended up being more comedic than anything else, the TSA announced that there was no need to fear the holiday, foreigners washing themselves in airport bathrooms and whispering prayers to themselves was acceptable at least during this month. President Obama made news himself this Ramadan in both positive and negative ways. The prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, who had already been on hunger strike protesting their long detention without trial, were now force-fed during their fasts leading to an uproar in the Muslim community. The issue of force-feeding has been on the forefront of human rights abuse watch for months, but it received additional attention this month because of the fast itself. For a problem that had been swept under the carpet for a long time, Ramadan gave it the opportunity to be front and center all month long.
As a result of the Gitmo abuses, President Obama’s invitation to the annual White House Iftaar also received immeasurable publicity, mostly of the negative kind. There were many calls for a boycott in light of American drone attacks abroad and secret surveillance of Muslims at home. As well, there were those in the Muslim community who felt equally strongly that attending the event was the best form of engagement. Once again, a religious holiday centered on introspection and personal connection to God had resulted in a public highlight of political issues and debates in the best possible manner.
While the White House Iftar was the most star-studded one, it was by no means a lone event. Throughout the month, mosques all across America hosted interfaith Iftars, opening up their hearts and places of worship to others to break the fast together. As an interfaith activist involved in such activities at a local level for many years, I have found that people of all faiths have a healthy curiosity about Ramadan, which is best answered by allowing them to share part of the experience.
I wrote about my own mosque’s interfaith Ramadan activities on an Italian blog with the hope that readers will realize the opportunities inherently available in all religious holidays: a safe and non-threatening avenue for interfaith dialogue and communication that otherwise may not be available. Overall this year was a successful Ramadan for a number of reasons, and it’s time for the Eid celebration that brings home these lessons!
Saadia Faruqi is an interfaith activist, editor of Interfaith Houston and trainer of American Muslim issues. Follow her on Twitter @saadiafaruqi.