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How Christians are using their lawns to support their Muslim neighbors.

Ramadan is helping to shift how communities view Islam.

How Christians are using their lawns to support their Muslim neighbors.

Summer means lazy days and late bedtimes in many American households. But for Americans Muslims this year, it also means something more: Ramadan.

Many U.S. families celebrate Ramadan. Image via iStock.


Ramadan is the month that Muslims believe God began the revelation of the Quran to Prophet Muhammad. This year, Ramadan started on June 6 and will probably end on July 7.

During Ramadan, the world’s Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, pray more, give charity, and otherwise spend prayerful and peaceful lives. And while Ramadan is always interesting, it’s especially fascinating this year, as there’s also been a surge of bigotry toward Muslim Americans. The current negative political rhetoric about Islam has made this a difficult time for American Muslims across the nation to celebrate and focus.

But one Christian group in Minnesota is trying to change that tough dynamic by encouraging tolerance and understanding of their Muslim neighbors ... on their front lawns.

The Minnesota Council of Churches, a group of more than 25 churches from a variety of denominations, made news earlier this month for their Blessed Ramadan campaign, in which they asked community members to put signs like this one in their yards wishing Muslims a blessed holy month:

Image courtesy of the writer, used with permission.

After it was launched, the Blessed Ramadan program became a national hit.

It was featured on Voice of America Indonesia for “giving hope for better interfaith relationships to a majority-Muslim country where Christians sometimes experience persecution,” according to Rev. Jerad Morey, the project organizer and program and communications director of the Minnesota Council of Churches.

And it was called a triumph of the human spirit by Church Marketing Sucks.

Now, hundreds of Christians across Minnesota and the nation are supporting their Muslim neighbors during Ramadan.

This support came at just the right time, when it was greatly needed. Morey says they have provided signs to 53 interfaith, Catholic, Jewish, ELCA, UCC, PCUSA, UMC, Episcopalian, Universalist, and Community of Christ congregations.

Muslims are taking note and expressing their gratitude.

The groups have cultivated a great interfaith experience for the community. Image via iStock.

A Muslim myself, I’m involved heavily in interfaith dialogue and outreach in my own Greater Houston community. I’m also raising two first-generation American children, and every day I see how much of difference just one hand extended in friendship can mean to my family.

Blessed Ramadan gives me hope. It gives me hope that there are kind, generous people in the world, and that they hail from all faith backgrounds. It is such a small thing, but it sends a powerful message.

Other Muslims have expressed similar thoughts. Asad Zaman of the Muslim American Society of Minnesota told the Minneapolis Star Tribune: “If I see a sign, it tells me that the person believes this country belongs to everyone, that no one should be excluded. There is a vast reservoir of goodwill among people. The Blessed Ramadan signs allow that to be expressed.”

And Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Minnesota, told the St. Paul Pioneer Press, “It’s a powerful message to deter intolerance.”

Image courtesy of the writer.

Besides being a spiritually uplifting month, Ramadan is also considered a time of community.

Traditionally, many mosques open their doors to Muslims and non-Muslims alike to break the fast together (this is called iftar) and offer additional nighttime prayers.

Increasingly, these iftar events are turning into interfaith events as well. The Minnesota Council of Churches hosts the Taking Heart interfaith iftar to bring faith groups closer together. And this year, their joint program with the Muslim American Society of Minnesota will welcome an estimated 1,000 non-Muslims into these events through 19 mosques/Islamic centers.

Interfaith iftars are nothing new – even the White House holds an official one each year.

But they are drawing more attention in recent years amid the backdrop of negative political rhetoric and terrorist attacks by Islamist extremists.

In such an environment, when American Muslims often feel worried about their future and disheartened about constant stereotyping, sharing Ramadan with a neighbor can be an easy and effective way to change perspectives and increase tolerance in the community.

Celebrating Ramadan is a great way to engage with one another, even if the time spent looks as corny as this stock photo. Image via iStock.

Whether you prefer putting up signs or attending an event, there is so much that can be done to promote a more inclusive and tolerant religious community!

Here are some tips for how you can support your Muslim friends on this and every Ramadan:

  • Learn about Ramadan by asking a neighbor or reading articles like this one or this one. Learning about Ramadan can help debunk stereotypes about the traditions behind this month.
  • Visit a mosque for an interfaith iftar for some good conversation and great food. At my mosque and hundreds of others around the world, Muslims talk and eat with their neighbors every day.
  • Ask a Muslim neighbor or coworker if he or she needs help while fasting. Unlike Lent, Ramadan can be physically exhausting, and your support will be very much appreciated.
  • Wish your community a Blessed Ramadan, in the same vein that you wish them Merry Christmas or Cinco de Mayo! I make it a point to give good wishes to others on their holidays, and it really pleases me when they do the same for me.
  • Try fasting, even if it’s just for a day, to experience some of the spiritual benefits Muslims get from Ramadan. Some of my friends have loved this exercise and continue with me each year.

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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