Ramadan is helping to shift how communities view Islam.
Summer means lazy days and late bedtimes in many American households. But for Americans Muslims this year, it also means something more: Ramadan.
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:
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.
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.”
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.
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.