Thursday, July 11, 2013

Society: Preparing for Ramadan, the American way

Preparing for Ramadan, the American way

by Naazish YarKhan

Chicago – Tuesday, 9 July marks the beginning of the Holy Month of Ramadan for Muslims in the United States, a time when Muslims around the world abstain from food and drink from the first light of dawn until sunset. To truly take advantage of the blessings of the month, my family and I participated in a retreat organized by the Westmont, Illinois based Darul Hikmah, an Islamic educational initiative.

This retreat reinforced my belief that the United States, despite some of its shortcomings, is still one of the best places to practice Islam freely.

Despite the United States’ growing reputation as a nation given to secretive surveillance programs, America’s commitment to plurality and freedom of religion is clearly alive and well. The search for wisdom and learning has always been possible in the United States and the Muslim American community has excelled as a result.

In the 1960’s, when many Muslim immigrants arrived from the non-Western world as a result of new immigration legislation, retreats like this one didn’t exist, so preoccupied were they with setting roots in their new home. Religion was a priority, but many Islamic youth groups and mosques had modest beginnings in rented church basements.

Today, Darul Hikmah, and the many Islamic learning centres around the country, are testimony that America’s constitutional right to freedom of religion is more than just words.

Ramadan, in the Chicago area anyway, is a time of year where Muslims actively step up efforts to be more than simply “the other”. Several mosques host iftaar dinners, and share this meal that marks the end of the fast each day with their Muslim and non-Muslim neighbours. Muslim organizations furthermore organize food drives and volunteer at food pantries.

But it doesn't require an institution to represent Islam. Building on friendships with our non-Muslim neighbours and friends, this will be our family's 11th year of exchanging gifts and candy at both Eid and Christmas. We are all representatives of our faith and have the ability to make lasting impressions – whether good or poor.

That was another reason I attended this retreat. My children spend more time at school with friends and teachers of various faiths than they do with us. In their daily interactions, they symbolize Islam.

The retreat was my way to help them solidify their identity as practicing Muslims, while surrounding them with peers who are similarly devoted to Islam. The lectures reinforced what we teach them at home: living by the tenets of our faith and embodying Islamic values such as honesty, respect, charity, perseverance and patience is to be a good Muslim.

Like all Americans, I cannot afford to take freedom of religion for granted. Given instances of Islamophobia in the United States and abroad, our ability to gift freedom of religion to future generations depends on our willingness to wear our faith on our sleeves and be less “the other” and more of “the good neighbour”. When we share our faith and act on its teachings publicly, we begin to serve as informed sources on Islam, erasing stereotypes and misinformation.


* Naazish YarKhan is a communications strategist in the Chicago area. She has written for over 50 media outlets internationally, including NPR, Huffington Post, Chicago Tribune and Saudi Aramco magazine. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 9 July 2013,
Copyright permission is granted for publication.