American Muslims Celebrate Ramadan

December 14, 2000

Source: The Plain Dealer

On December 14, 2000, The Plain Dealer reported that "about 40,000 Muslims throughout Northeast Ohio are in the midst of Ramadan, a month of fasting and reflection that commemorates Allah revealing Islam's holy book, the Koran, to the prophet Mohammed. Among the faithful are scores of new immigrants who have come from countries where Ramadan is as deeply ingrained in the culture as Christmas is among Americans. For them, maintaining their schedule of prayers and keeping the traditional sunrise-to-sunset fast presents new challenges...Most Muslim countries shift gears to accommodate the requirements of Ramadan. Schools close early and only a handful of restaurants remain open to cater to the very young or very old who are physically unable to fast. But the Lakewood High School cafeteria is open for business every day. So, during lunch, 16-year-old Jamela Elder sits at a distance from students who are eating and does homework with fellow Muslim students. Others stay in the principal's office or the library, but some can't resist. 'Some of the Arab boys will fast, but some will go with their friends and eat,' said Elder, who was born in New York but spent the last six years in Jerusalem. Dr. Rashid Najmi, secretary of the Lorain Islamic Association, said the differences between here and other countries are striking. In his native Pakistan, restaurants will even draw their blinds during Ramadan to lessen temptation...The contrast extends to the faces Muslims see when they attend services in their mosque. American Muslims are a rainbow of races and nationalities compared to what you would find in most Islamic countries. At many mosques here, Eastern Europeans wearing Turkish fezzes bow down alongside worshippers with Middle Eastern head scarves and young boys in Starter jackets...Despite the challenges, it is also getting easier for Muslims to celebrate Ramadan in the United States. Imam Abbas Ahmad of the First Cleveland Mosque said employers are much more likely to give Muslim workers time to celebrate traditions, such as Ramadan's fast-ending evening meal, than they were five years ago. And local Muslims are reaching out to explain their faith. The Islamic Center annually invites Catholics, Protestants, Jews and civic leaders to a special Ramadan meal...Living in the United States has provided 16-year-old Nermin Covic with a special opportunity: a chance to learn to pray. There were few moments amid the fighting in his native Bosnia to honor Ramadan. Covic, who lives in Lakewood, said his mother now is helping him relearn Muslim traditions."