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
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."