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Ramadan brings people together

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Posted on: April 11, 2024

By AIESHA SOLOMON

The Islamic holy month of Ramadan began with the setting of the sun on Sunday, March 10.  On March 11, Muslims began fasting from all food and drink from sunrise to sunset, a ritual they will undertake every day for a month. Ramadan is the month when the holy books, including the Quran, were revealed.

Javid Bhaiyat, an Imam, or prayer leader, and education director at the Islamic Community Center of Laurel (ICCL) described the importance of the holy month..

“This month is unique for divine revelation. This month is unique for guidance of a human being, guidance of the human heart, and this month is a clear sign. By fasting, it increases our ability to differentiate and gives us [Muslims] the criterion to differentiate between what’s right and what’s wrong,” Bhaiyat said, in an in-person interview. 

Ramadan fasting is one of the five pillars of  Islam. The first is profession of faith (Shahadah), the second is everyday prayer, and zakat (almsgiving) is the third. Ramadan fasting is the fourth pillar and the fifth is pilgrimage to Mecca by those who are able.

Muslims give two kinds of zakat, specifically Zakat al-Mal and Zakat al-Fitr, as ICCL Chairman Syed Osama Hasan described. 

“Zakat al-Mal is like what … every Muslim has to give [if] able to give it. Two and a half percent of all their savings for one full year, one full calendar year, but Zakat al-Fitr is something separate that’s calculated and is paid before Eid al-Fitr, at the end of Ramadan,” Hasan said in an interview. “And that is a set amount, which varies year to year based on what the economy is. For this year, it’s $10 per person.” 

During Ramadan, ICCL hosts a number of services for the Muslim community, including iftar, “a term for breaking of the fast with a meal after sunset,” Hasan wrote in an email, and is done “every day with dates, water, fruits, veggie rolls, juice, etc.” at ICCL.

“On selected days for which we have a large community iftar/dinner … the iftar is light, and then after Maghrib [prayer] there is a full dinner meal,” Hasan wrote. 

ICCL also hosts weekend drive-thru iftars, but, as Hasan said, “…due to the situation in Palestine we are not doing many this month. Rather we have urged our community members to donate towards feeding those who are starving in Gaza.”

Bhaiyat noted that the daily iftar and weekend dinners are largely paid for by contributions from the community.

The center held an open house for Muslims and non-Muslims on March 16. 

The Islamic Community Center of Laurel’s masjid.
Courtesy of Aiesha Solomon

“Events with our neighbors is very important, because it gives us an opportunity to know them, and it gives them an opportunity to know us, ask us, talk to us, eat together, sit together, chill together, have tea together,” Bhaiyat said. “It just breaks the barriers and the stereotypes.”

The open house showcased Islamic exhibition posters depicting aspects of the religion and offering information about Islam. Children, Bhaiyat said, “made exhibitions of each prophet and the family tree of every prophet and how they are all connected together and all the prophets and how all the religions are actually connected together. It’s all out there today.” 

During the open house, Abdul-Jabbar Akinlolu briefly explained the story of Prophet Isa, as Jesus is known in Islam, and his mother Maryam (Mary) to a Muslim and non-Muslim audience. 

Akinlolu described Ramadan as a chance to refresh religious batteries. 

“Ramadan is such a blessed time that Allah, our Creator, chains up those devils that influence us. Its special blessing and special mercy are sent down in this blessed month,” Akinlolu said. “Plus, we get a super spiritual charge, right? Just like a fast charger. Ramadan is like a fast charge for the soul, so I look forward to it every year.”

Guests at the open house could wear hijabs (religious headscarves), get a temporary henna tattoo, purchase Arabic calligraphy art, and participate in arts and crafts activities. Non-Muslim guests were invited to observe the Asr and Maghrib prayers taking place in the masjid, or place of worship, during the open house. 

“The henna was [a] very fun experience. To see the different designs among the different artists,” Ann Bennett, executive director of the Laurel Historical Society, said. “And then with the hijab, it was very nice. There were some young women helping. You could tell they are very passionate about explaining, especially from like a younger, more modern perspective as well.” 

Bennett came to the open house in part to document the event for the Laurel Historical Society. 

“One of the things we’re trying to do more as an organization is to document history as it happens,” Bennett said. “We don’t have a lot about Islamic Community Center in our collection, so I thought it’d be a good way to take some pictures of the events, get some additional information about some of the programs and activities that they do there.”

Bhaiyat noted that the center’s open house is an annual tradition.

“This is the first time that we’ve done one where we have exhibitions. Every single masjid in the Maryland state is doing one today,” he said. 

Eid al-Fitr, also known simply as Eid, marks the end of Ramadan and is celebrated by Muslims worldwide. The holiday falls at the start of the lunar month. and therefore is not a fixed date; it is estimated to take place on April 10 this year.

“Eid al-Fitr is the Eid and festival that we celebrate as Muslims. It is the equivalent of like a Christmas. We celebrate Eid for the passing of the month of Ramadan and for Allah giving us the ability to fast and the ability to help the poor and the needy,” Bhaiyat said.

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