Obama Issues Ramadan Message as Muslim Holy Month Begins — VOA News com|Building spiritual community is an important part of the observance of Ramadan says Jibril Hough

Palestinians enjoy their last Friday day before the Holy month of Ramadan, at the beach of the Mediterranean sea in Gaza City, June 3, 2016.

Palestinians enjoy their last Friday day before the Holy month of Ramadan, at the beach of the Mediterranean sea in Gaza City, June 3, 2016.

President Barack Obama has issued his annual Ramadan greeting as Muslims around the world are preparing to observe the holy month, which is expected to begin late Sunday or Monday, depending on the first sighting of the new moon.

“As Muslim Americans celebrate the holy month,” he said in a statement issued by the White House, “I am reminded that we are one American family. I stand firmly with Muslim American communities in rejection of the voices that seek to divide us or limit our religious freedoms or civil rights.”

Obama urged Americans to remember the millions of people whose lives have been displaced by conflict and struggle across the world.

Muslims are expected to spend the month fasting during daylight hours, eschewing even water, and spending more time in prayer and study of the Quran. They are supposed to avoid bad habits and indulgences, such as smoking and sex.

Cultural differences and even geography have led to differences in the ways Muslims observe the holy month. Fasting during daylight hours has proven difficult for people living near polar regions during the long days of the summer. Muslim clerics have in the past few years issued fatwas allowing Muslims in regions where the sun does not set in summer — or, when Ramadan falls in winter, where the sun does not rise — to follow the sunrise and sunset times of Mecca.

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Different paths

Even among U.S. Muslims, there are different paths toward the same goal. Amani Elkassabany, a teacher in Bethesda, Maryland, says she has modified her fasting practices over the years.

Elkassabany says fasting all day can make a person too focused on breaking the fast at the end of the day, and result in overindulgence after sundown — a practice Muslim writings discourage.

“Recently, I’ve tried to observe what is best about the fast without following it to the letter,” she says. “So this year, I won’t be not eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset. But I will be eating only two meals a day instead of three.

“I will stop eating meat, poultry, and dairy products for ethical, health and environmental reasons. I will seek out opportunities to build spiritual community with others. I will work on building more compassion and kindness into all my interactions with others,” Elkassabany says.

Building spiritual community is an important part of the observance of Ramadan, Hough says. And not just among the faithful.

During the evening “iftar” meal after sunset, some mosques open their doors to non-Muslims, who are invited to come and eat, to observe or participate in prayers, and to engage in conversation.

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