“Are We Ready to Share the Blessed Month of Ramadan with America?”
By Shakeel Syed
Executive Director
Shura Council of Southern California

An iftar party arranged by the Muslim Students Association (MSA)

This brief guide for Masajid attempts to answer the question, “Are we ready to share the blessed month of Ramadan with America?” Each year before Ramadan the Shura Council receives many inquiries from private and public sector about Ramadan. They are thirsty and they want to know. America wants to know. Everyone wants to know what Ramadan is all about. This guide does not replace but adds to the myriad experiences of community members, Masajid and organizations in reaching out to America through Ramadan. We pray this year’s Ramadan will be most spiritually enjoyable not only for us but also for all people in our neighborhoods, InshaAllah. Always remember, “It’s only together we can make a difference.”
This guide is premised to serve two main groups: (1) Muslim community of your Masjid, and (2) people of all faiths around your Masjid.
1. First Time Fasting Young Muslims: Several things can be done to inspire the young people who may have decided to fast for the first time or are thinking about it. Here’re some ideas for both groups.
1.1 Masjid can hold special programs for young people to answer many questions they may have about fasting. Invite another young person who fasted last year for the first time to share his/her experience.
1.2. Those who have already decided to fast for the first time, formally “recognize” them in the Masjid newsletter and/or a dedicated evening. This will help them sustain their commitment for their faith and its practices.
1.3. Masajid may consider giving small gifts and/or a certificate that young children will treasure as a souvenir for their entire life.
2. First Time Fasting New Muslims: This is a growing segment of population in our communities. They do not necessarily believe they can fast, simply because they never did. Talking to them and encouraging them may help them fulfill their obligation.
2.1. Hold a special program with the help of three important people from within your community. (a) Imam or a knowledgeable person from the community, (b) a Doctor who can highlight the physical benefits, and most importantly (c) another new Muslim who practiced fasting last year.
2.2. Make every effort to make the journey of a new Muslim in your community as enjoyable and easy as possible. Embracing them in a special way helps a lot. Assigning a person on one-to-one basis goes a long way. It is a concern that converts sometime leave Islam because they could not grow in it with others.
3. Ramadan Friday Khutba (sermon): If your Masjid does not plan the content of Friday Khutba, perhaps you may like to try it out this year. Each community knows itself best. Hence it is easier for you to request the Khatibs (sermon speakers) to bring your issues up in his Khutba and help community get educated.
For example, the Masajid attendance during Ramadan, especially on Fridays, is if not more at least twice as much as on Fridays outside Ramadan. This means the Ramadan gets to motivate some Muslims who typically do not frequent Masajid outside Ramadan regularly. By the way this is no different than in other faith groups as we learn from our Interfaith partners.
What can your Masjid do to “retain” them and how? This can be brought up in Khutba followed by some outreach activities to these Ramadan only OR Ramadan Friday’s only congregants. Think of this as a Masjid Administrator. What type of value and strength your Masjid will be able to offer if your congregation size is doubled? This is a dynamic that if harnessed with some planning can bring some exceptionally positive results.
4. Iftar (Breaking Fast) for Muslim Inmates: There are a good number of State and Federal prisons in Southland. Almost in all prisons, there are Muslims. Although Muslim inmates have struggled over number of years and have gotten some relief from the prison system to get their Ramadan needs met but the relief is not adequate enough. Your Masjid can play a critical role in helping the Muslims inside the prisons and also fulfill an obligation to help those who are in need.
There are following Federal prisons and/or detention centers in Southern California: Victorville (2 men’s & 1 women facilities); Downtown Los Angeles (1 large detention center); San Pedro (1 prison and the other detention center operated by DHS). There are several California State prisons in Southern California in addition to the County Jails. There’s no more joy for the inmates to get a visit from a fellow Muslim who can simply pray with them during Ramadan.
If you like to organize Iftar feeding programs in federal prisons, please contact Br. Jan Muhammad (818-903-1463) or Br. Abdul Hafeez (213-253-9575).
5. Iftar exchange between Masajid: In almost all Muslim cultures, people exchange Iftar with friends, neighbors and community in general. The spirit is to foster love and express hospitality. How about furthering this spirit with a sister Masjid?
Consider involving a group of or the whole community to pitch in Iftar for X number of people for your sister Masjid. Let people bring their own ethnic cuisine. There are some Masajid in Southern California where communities would so much love to see other Masajid bringing Iftar for their communities.
Food does wonders, always and everywhere. Muslims do whatever they do for the pleasure of Allah. Sharing your meal with a fasting person has exponentially more Ajr (reward) during Ramadan than at any other time. Wouldn’t you or your Masjid like to avail of this blessing?
Among so many benefits, some tangible ones could be communities knowing, learning and loving more of each other. People pitching in and doing their best for the other Masjid in the spirit of extending the best hospitality. Leadership could exchange visits with the Iftar coming in from a neighboring sister Masjid.
6. Outreach: Reaching out to everyone around you during Ramadan cannot be more effective than during Ramadan. Many people already know Muslims observing Ramadan. However most of the people don’t know how exactly Muslims celebrate the entire month of Ramadan; the beginning of it, the fasting and the celebrations at the end of the month. Here are some examples you can reach out effectively to various segments of the population in your neighborhood.
6.1 Interfaith communities: Write to all places of worship in a 10-mile radius and plan to invite them to break fast with you at the Masjid. Let them observe how Muslims fast during the day and how it is concluded at sunset and how we continue the spirit of fasting with special prayers in the evenings and why.
There are several clergy and lay leaders from Abrahamic faith groups that the Shura Council is aware of who fast in Ramadan in solidarity with Muslims. If you like any one of them to visit your Masjid and speak, please contact the Shura Council office.
Your Open Mosque Day guests are ideal people to be re-invited during the month of Ramadan to strengthen the relationship.
6.2 Law Enforcement & Fire Dept: Ramadan is a great month to re-establish or establish afresh relationships with your local police, sheriff and fire departments. Many communities have already some type of working relationship. That could be very easily strengthened during the month of Ramadan.
Let them know many Muslims would be leaving Masajid late in the night after Taraweeh (special night prayers) and many Muslims also return to Masajid early in the morning. This helps them to alert their night patrols who will not get surprised to see late night traffic around Masajid. You can also request them to increase the patrol for better safety.
Invite them to an Iftar or Iftar[s] and let them enjoy the festivities and spiritual spirit of Ramadan in Masajid.
6.3 City officials: Write to your Mayor and the Council about Ramadan and invite them to Iftar[s] and thank and recognize them for providing pertinent services to the community and to the Masjid. A simple award ceremony recognizing them will go a long way when you plan to expand your Masjid or get some new permits.
Some communities, because of their excellent relationship with the local city officials, were able to get many goodies in return, such as an additional parking lot at no cost! Imagine your Masjid saving hundreds of thousands of dollars by acquiring free land and also easing up the parking problems that most Masajid face on a perpetual basis.
6.4 School District: Write to your School District Superintendent and request him to apprise all schools in the district about Ramadan. It is a good idea to also write directly to the School principals about Ramadan. The Schools will thank you for letting them know. This will then help them to relieve Muslim kids from PE classes and/or providing special relief for them during the month of Ramadan. Ask them to provide special prayer area for Duhr (noon prayers) time. Offer them free presentations to the school population on Ramadan in particular and Islam in general during the month of Ramadan. Organize an Iftar for the staff. Invite them to your Masjid.
A great source for Ramadan and Eid for school teachers is www.cie.org.
6.5 Media: All of us know the important role the media plays in today’s world. Initiate a meeting with the editorial board or your local paper’s religion editor or reporter. Invite them to Masjid for an Iftar. They love positive stories that demonstrate the freedom of religion and diversity of Muslim communities. Let them know of all your special occasions during Ramadan, such as Lailatul Qadr (Night of Power) and/or Eid Al Fitr (Breaking of Fast Celebrations) or any other program during the month.)
Introduce them to select community members, such as the ones who’re fasting for the first time or a large Iftar gathering at someone’s house. Help them learn the idea of hospitality and sharing particularly in the month of Ramadan. Organize an Iftar party exclusively for the media only either at their offices or invite them to the Masjid to experience the whole nine yards.
6.6 Academia: Most of the communities are surrounded either by community colleges or universities. How about inviting the faculty or the administrative leadership for an Iftar at the Masjid?
6.7 Library: Set up an appointment with your librarian and ask him/her to let you organize a Ramadan/Eid display for patrons. Some libraries also organize presentations during special holidays. Ask them to organize one for your center. Just as with others, make sure to invite them for an Iftar at your Masjid. A great source for Ramadan/Eid display is www.discoverislam.com.
6.7 Eid Cards to friends of other faiths: It is a great idea to send Eid greetings to your friends from other faiths. An excellent and inexpensive source to put together “customized” Eid greetings with your Masjid’s or your personal name is IslamiCity (www.islamicity.com/bazar).
6.8 Muslim Students Association: Encourage and support the local MSA chapter to hold Iftar at their campus. Often times MSA's are short of funds. Masjid proactively helping the local MSA chapter will mean much to the young men and women. This will motivate and inspire them to continue to do well.
7. Ramadan Marketing: Hoist a banner with Ramadan greeting for peace conspicuously to the passing traffic outside your center. A colorful banner with a clear message may not cost as much and can be repeatedly used during each Ramadan. Make Ramadan and Islam synonymous with peace.
8. Clean-up: It is extremely important to clean up Masajid before, during and after Ramadan. Masajids use during Ramadan increases exponentially which means cleaning, should be done more often. Guests visiting Masajid should get an impeccable impression. This will encourage them to return often.
9. Security: It is not a bad idea to hire private security, if your Masjid can afford. Should you need assistance, please ask Shura Council and we can guide you to Muslim-owned private security companies. Alternatively, few volunteers can be picked up from the community who can serve as Security personnel during Ramadan. Increasingly our Mosques are being attacked and vandalized. Pro-active efforts will keep everyone safe.
10. Zakat (obligatory alms) Collection & Disbursement: Masajid undertake this extremely important responsibility by default. However what is rarely done in Masajid is to keep track of how much is collected and how much disbursed and then compare this data with previous years.
Shura Council is contemplating to suggest a program where the Zakat collection and disbursement can both be centralized for optimum benefit. There’s no system in place now where no two Masajid knows if the same person is receiving from both Masajid while many other deserving people are being neglected.
Until such time a centralized program is in place, think of ways which proactively your Masjid can encourage your community to disburse their Zakat ahead of time allowing you to plan effective disbursement.
Shura Council welcomes any ideas in this regard.
Resources:
Several handy ideas to benefit from and celebrate Ramadan fully (http://www.soundvision.com/info/ramadan/)
Ramadan Notes for School Teachers (http://www.cie.org/ItemDetail.aspx?id=N&m_id=52&item_id=114&cat_id=104)
Online Resources (http://www.islamicity.com/ramadan/)
Posters & Readers on Islam & Ramadan (www.discoverislam.com)
For School Teachers (www.cie.org)
The author is deeply indebted to Sr. Sherrel Johnson and Br. Kalilm Farooki for their content and editorial suggestions.)


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Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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