Originally published in the New Haven Register
Have you ever passed by a Muslim woman with a headscarf and wanted to ask her what motivates her to live out her faith?
Have you ever thought to strike up a conversation with a Muslim colleague over his views on Muslim extremists in the news?
But were you too afraid to ask? Or maybe the moment wasn’t right.
Well, now that we are in the midst of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, this might be the best time to talk to a Muslim in your neighborhood.
Here are four compelling reasons why:
Reason 1. Ramadan is a nice chance to sit down together for an evening dinner. During the 30 days of Ramadan, which started this year in the last week of June, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. The caveat is that you can’t fast if you are sick, travelling, pregnant, nursing, or too senior or too junior.
In the evening after sunset, many Muslims will break the fast in congregation at their local mosque. Depending on the ethnic background of the group, this could mean sharing some pretty good food. So take advantage of the fact that it’s always easier to make a connection while breaking bread, or eating dates, which happens to be a traditional favorite for a Ramadan dinner.
Reason 2. Ramadan is supposed to be a time to help others. In this month, the founder of Islam the Prophet Muhammad would intensify his spending on the poor, the orphan, the homeless, or anyone that came to him. Relatives had a special right. So did neighbors. The Prophet said, “He is not a believer, who eats his fill while his neighbor starves.” The very act of fasting helps you understand up close what it’s like to go hungry, at least for the day.
So charitable foundations, take note. Ramadan is a great time to send that seasonal mailer or company memo about opening up your wallets to a good cause.
Reason 3. Ramadan is about sharing commonalities. The Quran states that fasting during Ramadan is prescribed for Muslims in the same spirit as it was prescribed to all of the previous Scriptures from God. Indeed, several Israelite Prophets from the Old Testament fasted before they could receive Divine revelation. To find God, the New Testament says that Jesus remained in the wilderness for 40 days without food. Hindu and Buddhist sages also fasted to achieve Nirvana, or enlightenment. Islam is unique in that it believes that the founders of all of the great faiths were messengers of the same God.
To bring the faiths together, my Muslim community, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA, regularly has interfaith Ramadan dinners at our mosques around the country.
So Ramadan is a great platform to learn about the many things we have in common.
Reason 4. Ramadan is a special time for Quran study. Besides fasting, another major significance of Ramadan is that the Quran was first revealed and then repeatedly revealed to the Prophet Muhammad in this month. For this reason, Muslims are encouraged to especially read the Quran during Ramadan and reflect upon its meaning.
So can you think of a better time to start a conversation with a Muslim about the Quran?
For example, I think you will be pleasantly surprised to know that, according to the Quran, the Muslim headscarf is meant to imbibe modesty and to allow women to be judged, not based on their outer looks, but rather their inner qualities. In fact, in an entire book of the Quran that bears her name, both women and men are told to follow the virtuous example of the Virgin Mary. Have you ever noted that virtually every statue of Mary shows her head covered by a scarf or shawl?
The big news today is about a militant Muslim group in Iraq called the ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) that claims to have established a scary Muslim Caliphate. It’s telling though that the Quran mentions that a true Caliphate is a spiritual, non-political entity and that it can only be established by God-fearing people who do good works. The ruthless bloodshed of innocent civilians in Iraq by the ISIS completely contradicts the requirement. My Ahmadiyya Muslim Community believes that our leader, his Holiness Mirza Masroor Ahmad, is a Caliph — also known as the “Khalifa.” He is internationally heralded as a champion of peace, and the community practices its motto “Love for All, Hatred for None.” In my view, that fits the bill of the Quranic Caliphate.
In this Ramadan, seize the moment. Ask the Muslim lady waiting in line at the grocery counter about her faith — politely of course. Invite your Muslim colleague or neighbor to go out for dinner after sundown. Avoid bars or barbeque ribs though, since Muslims are not allowed to drink alcohol or eat pork. Better yet, go visit our local mosque and enjoy the food and the charitable atmosphere. Learn how we are all more similar than we thought. And you’ll finally get the chance to hear what the Quran actually says.