Ramadan: a month of fasting, prayer, charity and community

| February 29, 2024 | 0 Comments

Ramadan Mubarak! Happy Ramadan!

MARYA AYLOUSH with her son, Ameen, and fruit for Iftar snack.

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins this year at sundown on March 10 and ends at sundown on April 9. There are over two billion Muslims worldwide, making Islam the second largest religion, just behind Christianity’s nearly 2.4 billion adherents. Of the 3 million to 4 million Muslims estimated to live in the U.S., 200,000 to 250,000 live in Southern California. They comprise about 2 percent of the total population of Greater Los Angeles.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the 12-month Islamic lunar calendar and commemorates the month during which the archangel Gabriel first began verbally conveying the Quran to the prophet Mohammed. It is said that it took approximately 23 years to complete the transfer. The holiday is widely known as a month of fasting because adults are directed not to eat or drink during daylight hours for the entire month, as commanded by one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The pillars stipulate:
1) There is one God,
2) Pray five times a day,
3) Fast for Ramadan,
4) Give to charity, and
5) Make hajj [a pilgrimage] to Mecca in Saudi Arabia at least once in one’s lifetime.

Besides fasting, Muslims are proscribed from engaging in acts of intimacy during the day, as well as refraining from gossip, slander or anything else considered unholy.

Children, the elderly and the infirm should not fast. Healthy adults not only fast, but continue their daily lives. Those who work continue to work. Those in school still attend classes. Athletes compete. Musicians play instruments. Housework and cooking proceeds as usual. Hunger pangs and thirst are part of the process of becoming a better person, as is praying to foster a deeper connection to Allah, or God.
“It’s a month of spiritual renewal and discipline,” explains Marya Ayloush. The Hancock Park married mother of two children, Ameen and Amelie, continues, “We appreciate all our blessings and get to sympathize and empathize with those less fortunate, with what it’s like to be hungry. What it’s like to control our private desires. It changes us.”

Omar Ricci, spokesperson for the Islamic Center of Southern California on Vermont Avenue adds, “The real spirit of the month is to use it as a period to evolve your soul. Being more disciplined in your behavior. Being more patient. Increasing charity. There can be a financial component, but it can be a service or cooking. Even a smile toward another person is a charity.”

EGGPLANT drizzled with sour cream and pomegranate seeds.

The day usually begins before daylight with a light breakfast and ends at sundown with Iftar, the nightly breaking of the fast. Snacks, often figs, other fruit and water or juices, are generally served first, followed by prayers. Then a full meal is served, usually in community, either with family, friends or at a mosque. On weekends, the Islamic Center of Southern California hosts Iftar in their mosque, which is open to all visitors, as is true of other mosques.

After fasting all day, it’s no surprise that food for breaking the fast is an important part of observing the holiday. Aside from the traditional figs and water, anyone can serve whatever they want to break the fast. Ayloush’s cooking is inspired by her family’s mixed heritage. Her mother is Mexican, her father is Lebanese and Syrian and her husband is Algerian and Syrian, so she might cook Mexican beef tamales, Algerian bourak (fried potato-stuffed egg rolls) or Lebanese eggplant. They may get take out from Sumac Mediterranean Cuisine, a family-owned Lebanese restaurant on Highland Avenue.

Although children don’t fast, they can participate in Ramadan. Ricci recommends using an incremental approach. They can “hold off on having a glass of water for an hour. Have them give more charity in some fashion. Maybe help out mom a little more. Kids bring their piggy banks to the mosque to donate to charity,” sayd Ricci. Ayloush makes Ramadan-themed crafts with her children. Craft kits are available from Target.com and Amazon.com.

Chevalier’s storytime
This year Ayloush is also looking forward to going to a Ramadan story time at Chevalier’s Books Sat., March 16, from noon to 1 p.m., “It’s Ramadan, Curious George,” by Hena Khan, will be read.

The last 10 days of Ramadan are considered especially blessed. One of the odd-numbered nights during that period is the Night of Power. A good deed performed then is considered as momentous as 83 years worth of good deeds. However, the specific date is not known, so it is critical to engage in charitable and good works on all 10 days.

COMMUNITY IFTAR held last year at the Islamic Center of Southern California on Vermont Avenue.

After the month of prayer, spiritual renewal, the commitment to charity, the hardship of fasting and the joy of community meals to break each day’s fast, Ramadan is followed by a three-day family-oriented festival. Eid-al-Fitr, the “Festival of the Breaking of the Fast,” is marked by presents for children, feasts and family activities. Families may have picnics, go to Disneyland or celebrate with their mosque. Marya Ayloush says, “It’s not required, but one can start [Eid-al-Fitr] with prayer at a mosque. Pray with thousands of Muslims, shoulder to shoulder. It’s really beautiful. Then we’ll go to Six Flags!”

Even though the culminating event for Ramadan is geared toward fun, it’s the desire to become a better, more spiritual person that resonates long after the month is over. “I pray for peace in the world,” says Ayloush.

“I pray for my children to have moral character.”

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