Ramadan in the USA
Nasim Hassan, Delaware
A few decades ago the Muslim population in the USA was very small. There were Islamic Centers run by the Nation of Islam but the immigrants from other Muslim countries had their own ideas about Islam. The Muslim immigrants settled in the major metropolitan areas like New York, Los Angles, Houston and Chicago started building their own Islamic centers.
In these Islamic centers the Muslims of all sects such as Shia, Sunni, Wahhabi, and Brelvi prayed together. The people from Egypt, Pakistan and India were the pioneers in building these centers. During Ramadan invariably a person from Arabic speaking country would lead the Taraveeh prayers. In Ramadan the people from various countries would bring their food and volunteers would help in making the Iftar arrangement. At that time the Islamic centers could not find Hafiz e Quran. So I have seen using open Quran in front of the Imam. He would read Quran for a few days and another volunteer Imam would take his place. Most of the Islamic centers did not have a full time Imam and any Muslim capable of reciting Quran would step forward and lead the prayer.
In fact I have seen many professional people volunteer as school principal and Imam without taking any pay or benefits. Common people from various Muslim countries developed understanding by communicating in English language.
After a few years the Islamic centers started importing Hafiz –e- Quran from South Asia and Middle East. At the same the Islamic Academies in Texas and New York started graduating Alims and Hafiz e Quran. Gradually these people started replacing the volunteer teachers in Sunday Islamic schools and the Masjid Imams
Now stepping forward to the second decade of new millennium (2013), the Islamic centers have been transformed. Now majority of Islamic Centers have their own full time Imam and paid teachers. Islamic centers are now controlled by various sects. Turkish, Bangla Deshi, Indian and Pakistani Muslims dominate in their masjids. The activities during the month of Ramadan have also changed a great deal. I like to make a few observations about Ramadan activities on the East Coast of the USA. I have seen these activities first hand in various Masjids.
Masjids are full of Muslims praying Taraveeh during Ramadan. In most of the Islamic centers there is an Iftar arrangement for the weekends. In certain masjids there is Iftar on a daily basis. However the arrangement in every Masjid is different. I would place these Iftars in three broad categories.
In the first category, a group of people arrange for Iftar. I would call these Elite class Iftars. These people invite their own friends and limit the number based on the capacity of the Masjid or restaurant. These Iftar are well organized. The food is catered from restaurants and people are hired to setup the dining tables and cleaning. Physicians, dentists or businessmen make a group and then invite their family and friends. It is not that other people are prohibited. The ordinary people are simply not invited. Such Iftars are well managed with plenty of food and sweets. After such lavish Iftars there is little motivation left to pray for hours into the night. I happened to run into such Iftars by mistake but then turned back when I sensed unwelcome attitude.
The second category of Iftar is again arranged by the groups. I would call it a Hybrid Iftar because people of all kinds come to such Iftars. These groups and Islamic centers are open to everyone. Here again the food is catered by the local restaurants but it can be a hit or miss situation. Several times the expected number is exceeded by fifty or hundred people. The aggressive people get their fill while the people at the tail end will get a few pieces of bread and nothing else is available.
So if you are invited to such Iftars, my recommendation is to bring your own snacks and water. At least you can break your fast and then grab some food on your way home. I have seen the other side as well. Many times so much food is left over that the organizers are requesting people to take food home. Taking food home is not a great idea unless you have good judgment about the food.
Now come to third category that I call Langer Iftar. In such Iftar the people sit on the ground. A plastic sheet covers the ground outside or inside the masjid. Food is either cooked in the Masjid or catered by the restaurants. The Langer Iftars are arranged on a daily basis. The contributions to Iftars are voluntary. The contributions can be from groups like Afghani people, Pakistani or Arabic speaking people. Individuals can put money or a check for Iftar donations. Here some people bring food from their homes. These Iftars have simple food but everyone gets the food. I have never seen anyone going hungry or without food in such Iftars. I do not know whether it is due to simple food or the contentment of ordinary Muslims for this situation.
After Iftar and Maghreb prayers there is ample time for the people to socialize. Not long ago people of various Muslim countries would communicate with other people. Now I see Pakistani talking in Urdu or Punjabi while Arabic and Turkish people gather in their own groups. However the kids born in the USA are getting together because most of them speak English.
Muslims are perhaps the most religious people on Earth at this time. These days it is hard to find parking even for Taraveeh prayers. Majority of Muslims do not understand Arabic Language. However they are lined up in rows after rows listening to Quran recitation. May Allah give them reward for their piety and dedication! I sometimes wonder about the character transformation of Muslims when they understood the Quranic message and implemented the teaching in their lives.
Taraveeh prayers continue till mid night. During the last ten days of Ramadan, several people stay in the Masjids for Eitakaf. During 1970’s, I saw only elderly people secluded for Eitakaf. Now I can see many young people following this tradition.
I find many educated people volunteer their time for Masjid activities. They organize Iftars, keep up the facilities and volunteer for cleanup after Iftars. I salute them for their hard work and commitment. In every Masjid you will find such group of people.
I hope this tradition of Iftar continue extend towards the people of other faiths who are hungry. In fact the purpose of fasting is to experience pangs of hunger so that we can develop empathy for people who do not have food. This will generate goodwill with the people of other religions. Another suggestion that comes to mind is to spend time for introspection during Ramadan. This will lead us to think about the problems facing the common American people and develop solution with Islamic perspective. Comments are welcome at [email protected]