Published April 9th, 2021 at 6:00 AM
Every year Muslims from around the world mark the holy month of Ramadan by retreating into a spiritual space of introspection, ritual prayers and fasting from dawn to dusk.
This year Ramadan will begin on the evening of Monday, April 12, and is expected to last for 30 days. The exact beginning and ending times of Ramadan are based on the sighting of the moon.
“The annual observance of Ramadan in the Islamic calendar month is one of the five pillars of Islam,” explained Imam Abdelhamid Algizawi, of the Islamic Center of Johnson County.
“Through fasting we learn to have patience and to feel with those who are needy and destitute. It’s a time for charity and self-examination.”
In addition to fasting, prayers and contemplation, Ramadan is also a time for communal gatherings. Historically, the mosques are packed with worshipers during this holy month, but the COVID-19 pandemic has changed all that. This year Ramadan still falls at a time when prudent measures around social distancing and large gatherings will still apply.
Area mosques continue to enforce mask wearing and social distancing. Temperatures are also monitored for everyone entering the mosque. And worshippers are advised against handshaking, hugging or congregating anywhere inside the mosque.
Imam Ibraheem Bakeer of the Islamic Society of Greater Kansas City, one of the largest mosques in Kansas City, serving almost 10,000 area Muslims, said that the pandemic has had a significant effect on people’s spirituality and faith.
“I have been invited to serve as an imam in over 17 countries in my life. And no matter where I go during this holy month, Muslims all over the world agree on one thing; this is the best time of the year both spiritually and socially. It is always a time when Muslim are at their best,” Bakeer said.
Although Ramadan is a month of restoration and guidance, Bakeer believes that the pandemic and the isolation it imposed has left many feeling spiritually apathetic.
“Without the communal element of breaking fast together and engaging in nightly prayers, people find it easy to neglect their faith,” he said.
The Dialogue Institute of Kansas City, an organization that promotes mutual understanding, respect and cooperation among people of diverse faiths and cultures, is known for its robust programming schedule during the month of Ramadan. This year will be no exception. They will host nightly Iftars, or meals to break the fast, for a number of church groups, and interfaith organizations using Zoom.
“We have intense programming this year. Ramadan is our most active month,” said Dr. Eyyup Esen, executive director of the institute. “This year we not only intend to bring people together from across the Kansas City area but also from all over the world. Our emphasis this year will be to showcase the diversity of Muslims from many parts of the globe.”
Esen and his team at the Dialogue Institute plan on connecting families from places as far as Brazil, Germany and South Africa, just to name a few.
“We want people to learn about how Ramadan is being observed by people everywhere. Not just from a theological perspective, but also culturally.”
In addition to hosting Zoom evening meals and pre-dawn meals, the Dialogue Institute also coordinates a number of charitable initiatives including a food drive for Harvesters and a Toy Drive for foster care children in the Kansas City area. All online events will be broadcast on YouTube.
Imam Algizawi of the Islamic Center of Johnson County is determined not to let the pandemic get in the way of making the most out of Ramadan.
“It’s important that we do not lose sight of the true meaning of this time. Ramadan is a month for spiritual growth,” he said.
Every night after the Iftar, Algizawi engages in the nightly prayers called Tarawih.
“The imam typically recites the Quran every night until he completes the recitation of the entire Quran, all from memory,” explained Algizawi. “Muslims believe that whoever fasts out of faith and with the hope of being rewarded, all his previous sins will be forgiven.”
For the devout Muslim, fasting is not just about abstaining from food and drink, it is also a time when Muslims should refrain from indulging in obscene language and to be on their best behavior. Muslims are called to practice a code of patience, kindness, generosity and heightened charity. It’s a time for self-examination and religious devotion.
Muslims can eat all night, but they must stop at the pre-dawn prayer called the Fajr prayer. They start their day fasting before sunrise with a pre-dawn meal called the ‘suhur.’ The final evening of Ramadan consists of a celebration called Eid al-Fitr, when the traditional month-long fast is commemorated with feasting and celebrations.
To congratulate the Muslim community at the start of Ramadan one can say “Ramadan Kareem” or “Ramadan Mubarak.”
Flatland contributor Inas Younis is a freelance journalist and commentator.