Muslim group opens doors during Ramadan

Michele Marr

The spotlight is on Ramadan this year. Since the day of the terrorist

attacks against the U.S. on Sept. 11, by men who regarded themselves as

Muslims, non-Muslims across our nation have wondered vocally just what

Islam practices and believes.

The Tolerance Foundation on Beach Boulevard is prepared for these

questions. Its members have been making an effort to share how they live

and worship, as well as to explain their beliefs, since the foundation

was established in Huntington Beach in October 1999.

Throughout the 30 days of Ramadan, which began Friday, they will

gather each evening to hear the recitation of the Quran, to pray and, on

Friday, Saturday and Sunday, to share Iftar, a meal eaten at sunset after

fasting from dawn to darkness.

Some will bring non-Muslim friends. All are encouraged to do so. Women

of all ages, men young and old, babies and children will come by the

dozens until December 15 and Eid al-Fitr, the festival that concludes the

fasting of Ramadan.

When asked about the reasons for the fasting of Ramadan, Yusuf Gurtas,

president of the Tolerance Foundation, refers to the Quran, which says:

"O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to

those before you, that you may learn self-restraint."

But fasting, called sawm in the Quran, is not merely about abstaining

from food and drink. It is also about abstaining from the immoral and the

unethical and about doing good deeds. It is an abstinence combined with

intention and prayer.

Gurtas describes Ramadan as putting himself on a physical and

spiritual diet. It is a time to slow down, to take stock of himself and

to make some corrections in his life.

"A month is usually not enough for that,' he says, "but Ramadan is a

gift from Allah to us, to break the habits of our lives and to initiate

the things we don't take time to do the rest of the year."

He reads the Quran more and prays more. During the nights of Ramadan,

there is one special night called Lailat Al-Qadr, the Night of Destiny.

This is the night thought to be the night when the Quran was revealed to

the prophet Muhammad.

Muslims spend the night in worship. They ask forgiveness for their

mistakes, recite supplications called dua's and recite the Quran. The

angels of Allah are said to come with peace and blessings on this night,

the night when, Muslims believe, one's livelihood and life span is

determined each year.

For Imam Asim Buyuksoy, Ramadan is a month of mercy and an opportunity

to account for his sins and to repent.

He asks: "If I do not repent in Ramadan, when will I do so?"

Buyuksoy, too, prays more often and makes a special effort to refrain

from lying, cursing and backbiting. "It is the best training for us to

gain better character traits," he explains.

Part of the character development of Ramadan involves offering charity

to those in need. It is part of the fast to give to the poor and to feed

the poor. It is especially important to offer such charity before the Eid

al-Fitr.

Otherwise, the poor may not have the means to participate in this

important feast, a festival that symbolizes the forgiveness of sins and

pardon from punishment. If charity is offered too late, "What good is

that?" asks Gurtas.

On one page of the Tolerance Foundation's Web site, the purpose of

Islam and of being a Muslim is explained like this: "Those who want to

reform the world must first reform themselves. In order to bring others

to the path of traveling to a better world, they must purify their inner

worlds of hatred, rancor and jealousy, and adorn their outer worlds with

all kinds of virtues."

This is the gift of Ramadan. It is a means to that end, a means

provided to the Muslim by Allah. It is, says Gurtas, "a unique

opportunity to open a new page for the rest of the year."

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