Today is the start of "Ramadan", the holiest month in the realm of Islam. Devout Muslims all over the world begin thirty days of fasting during which they will refrain from eating, drinking,and sexual activity from dawn until dusk. The intent of the fasting is to learn patience and humility, and to offer prayers for the forgiveness of sin. It is a time of reflection when Muslims seek a deeper awareness and association with God. It is said that during Ramadan that the gates of Heaven are flung wide open, the gates of Hell are slammed shut, and the Devil is chained up for the duration.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar and it is the month when the Holy Qur'an was given to the Prophet Muhammad according to the tenets of Islam. Fasting during Ramadan is also part of the Five Pillars of Islam, the other four being Testimony of Faith, Multiple Daily Prayers, Charity, and Pilgrimage to Makkah (Mecca). Since the lunar Islamic calendar is out of sync with the solar calendar by eleven or twelve days Ramadan does not begin on the same date each year but the Ramadan cycle does repeat itself every thirty-three years.
"Okay", I hear you asking, "So why would a Christian, or a Jew, or a Hindu, or a Buddhist, or a Confucian, etc., concern himself or herself about a Pillar of Islam and why would a Muslim care to know about other religious rites?". Well, almost two years before the fight for independence in Mexico began, a man named Abd al-Qādir al-Jazā'irī was born on September 6th, 1808 in the land of Algeria. Like Miguel Hidalgo, the first hero of Mexican independence, Abd al-Qādir (or Abd el Kader as he is also known) became the first hero of Algerian independence. He became very famous during his lifetime and gained the respect of many world leaders including Abraham Lincoln. In fact, a group of farmers in Iowa named their town "Elkader" Iowa, a name which it still proudly bears today. Abd el Kader was a conciliator and earned the name "Prince of Brotherhood" for his efforts in bringing Christians and Muslims together in peace and understanding. He said that all religions brought to us by the prophets from Adam until Muhammad rest on two principles, praise for God, and compassion for all His creatures. He discovered that as human beings there are more things that unite us than divide us and a mutual understanding of each others religion and culture is essential for universal peace on Earth.
I believe that many of the problems between Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and Christianity (not to mention the sects that divide each religion) are born out of ignorance and fear and not actual fact and the solution is education and dialog. President Barack Obama put it this way. He said "All of us must remember that the world we want to build and the changes that we want to make begin in our own hearts and in our own communities". The traditional Muslim salutation at the beginning of Ramadan is "Ramadan Kareem" meaning "Ramadan is Generous" and the reply is "Allahu Akram" meaning "God is more Generous". On this day I want to reach out to every Muslim in every part of the world and say;
Ramadan Kareem! May Allah bless you in this holy month and accept all your prayers and good deeds. Āmīn.
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