Ramadan reflections


A decade ago I lived in Abu Dhabi during Ramadan. It was a beautiful, peaceful, meaningful experience that has shaped my life. I rejoice that I live now in a community in which I can share Ramadan with neighbors.

When I googled Ramadan 2010 (which was a foolish thought at the core) I learned that Minnesotans seem more concerned with the rules re breaking the fast at Electrolux and Viking Hussain Abdullah’s preparations for the season than we are with the essence of Ramadan. Still, we are learning and willing to learn more.

Admittedly, we have some basic gaps in our knowledge of Muslim practices during Ramadan. One has to do with the most obvious, i.e. fasting. Fasting itself is virtually universal among the world’s religions. It’s not just about avoiding food and water but about mental discipline. It’s about living a quiet, loving, peaceful life in a very public way. Muslims are not suffering so much as observing a faith built on peace and good will and a season that is not so much about sacrifice as about joy. Though the fast is from sunrise to sunset, breaking the fast brings family and friends together to enjoy not only a meal but a time of shared celebration of the holy season.

The beginning of Ramadan can be a bit problematic, especially for Muslims in the US and for those of us who try to understand. In Abu Dhabi we waited until the elders watched the skies for the first appearance of the crescent moon. Though we were pretty sure of the date, everything was on hold till the word came down. In this country there is division among Muslims and Islamic organizations about moon-sighting as the determinant of Ramadan’s beginning. Some ethnic groups want to coordinate their sacred observances with their homelands. Others want to have a date that is firm, in synch with political and economic realities of a global environment. It seems clear that the trend is to a global standard – which is why we all know that Ramadan begins August 11, 2010, in spite of when the crescent moon appears. Personally, I liked the ambiguity of moon-sighting….

As I write this it is Primary Election Day in Minnesota. Though my thoughts here are tangential to Ramadan, there is a connection. This election season Muslims are playing a major role as voters and as candidates – and this is new to our state. There are 150,000 Muslims living in Minnesota now. Many have roots here that go back for generations. Others have enriched our community in more recent times as they have arrived from Somalia, Ethiopia, Egypt, Morocco, Lebanon, Turkey and scores of other nations. Candidates are paying attention.

Even more, Muslims are themselves candidates for office. Congressman Keith Ellison leads the pack, of course. Farheen Hakeem is running for Governor on the Green Party ticket. In District 51A Omar Merhi (DFL) is running for the House of Representatives. DFLer Trayshana Thomas is running for State Senator in District 67. Muslims are on the local ballot for city council and school board seats around the state.

And so I think about those quiet days of Ramadan with the young women at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi. And I think about the Muslims in my Minneapolis neighborhood. It’s time to go vote, then head for the Holy Land for a cup of good coffee and, with luck, a chance to have a word with Majdi Wadi or his mother who so often greets guests with a smile that radiates serenity and good will.