Ramadan Brings Monthlong Fasting And Charitable Acts As Form Of Worship (April 11, 2021)
Imam Steve Mustafa Elturk of Troy greets community members during Eid in 2020. Photo courtesy Steve Mustafa Elturk
Islamic belief balances on five pillars; faith, prayer, alms, fasting and pilgrimage. These pillars hold up the holiday month of Ramadan.
Following the Hijri — the Islamic calendar, based on the lunar cycle — Ramadan stretches this year from April 12 to May 12. The monthlong observation ends with Eid al-Fitr, the “Festival of Breaking the Fast.”
During these 30 days, Muslims around the world abstain from all food and drink from dawn to dusk. Exceptions to this rule are pregnant or nursing women, the elderly and the sick.
Fasting is an important tradition because it allows Muslims to devote themselves to their faith through self-reflection and growing closer to Allah (God).
Earlier this year, Elturk was presented with The Robert A. Bruttell Interfaith Leader Award from the InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit for his role in strengthening interfaith partnerships with local religious organizations.
During this month of fasting, it is custom for worshippers to break their fast during an iftar meal. Iftar is the Arabic word meaning to break one’s fast. The meal is taken just after the Maghrib prayer.
Muslims throughout the world break the fast with water and dates, Elturk says.
“Different countries have different foods of their culture, however all Muslims have one thing in common when they break the fast,” he says. “All Muslims break their fast on an odd number of dates, either one, three or five.”
Using an odd number signifies that God is one and confirms the unity of God, he says. Dates also provide certain nutritional value and are helpful for digestion.
“Prophet Mohammad loved sweets, so we break the fast on something sweet, which also gives us energy,” he says.
It is common for mosques to host an iftar after evening prayer service. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Islamic Organization of North America would provide an iftar meal for the entire community every weekend, bringing in upwards of 200 people.
With current pandemic restrictions in place, the IONA board of directors decided against following this tradition. This year iftar meals will be served at home with the hope of a community gathering next year.
Ramadan tradition also focuses on charitable donation and paying one’s zakat. Zakat is an obligatory payment made annually under Islamic law, used for charitable and religious purposes. All Muslims are required to pay zakat at the end of Ramadan as a token of thankfulness to God for having enabled him or her to observe the obligatory fast.
Zakat is calculated based on the total savings of each individual during one Islamic calendar year and should equal 2 1/2 percent of a person’s wealth.
It is common for most people to pay zakat during Ramadan because it is believed that the rewards of charitable acts during this month are multiplied manyfold over giving outside the month of Ramadan.
“People come to me and say they are waiting for Ramadan, but I say why wait?” Elturk says. “Poor people can’t wait for Ramadan to eat and drink. We have to help them every day so I encourage my community to give outside of Ramadan and keep track of it.”
Among others, IONA partners with Mercy-USA, a nonprofit organization in Plymouth, and Islamic relief organizations. Community members can donate zakat to a relief fund set up for those in need of financial help. Anyone in need is welcome to fill out a form and be evaluated by the zakat committee.
“We take care of anything they need such as paying utility bills or providing gift cards to grocery stores,” Elturk says.
Above all, Elturk reminds his community to see the month of Ramadan as a way of worship, and not as ritual.
“A ritual is something that happens from habit,” he says. “A worship is more meaningful when your whole personality is involved and you remember the objective for this month is to be conscious of God the creator.”
For more information visit Islamic Organization of North America at ionamasjid.org.