National Edition

For Ramadan, Muslim families reach out to neighbors and friends

Published: Saturday, June 28 2014 4:30 a.m. MDT

Zainab Chaudry, at top, and the children of her in-laws and of friend Kaniza Tai, at left, assemble gift bags of treats as part of an outreach program by the Maryland chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations at Chaudry's home in Elkridge, Maryland. Ramadan begins on the evening of Saturday, June 28, 2014.

Mark A. Kellner, Deseret News

ELKRIDGE, Md. — On a Tuesday evening at the Sherwood Gardens apartment complex, Zainab Chaudry, a friend and some children are busy in a one-bedroom, 794-square-foot flat.

Ignoring the others riding bikes and skateboards or the volleyball game on the sand court near the community pool, two adults and four children assemble some 100 bags of treats, to which a small card is attached before being stapled shut.

"Ramadan is the month of sharing with others," the card says, attributing the words to the "Prophet Muhammad, Peace be upon him," and citing "Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith 614," one of the sayings or teachings of the Muslim prophet.

The card also has an Internet address (http://md.cair.com/blog/ramadan2014FAQs.html), where recipients can find more information about Islam, Muslims and the monthlong Ramadan fast, which begins at sunset Saturday, when the new moon is expected to be sighted in North America.

"During a time when there's so much fear, we want to educate people about what Islam is and who we are and what our traditions are," said Chaudry, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations' Maryland branch, which bills itself as a "grass-roots civil rights and advocacy organization" for American Muslims. "We want to dispel some of that fear and that 'strangeness' that surrounds Islam."

Grateful to fast

It's a common practice in Muslim communities to give gifts of food to neighbors during the monthlong observance, she said, a practice that sows "feelings of goodwill" among Muslims and their neighbors. The small bags contain a date — the food believed by Muslims to have been used by Muhammad to break his fast — some trail mix and chocolate candy.

During the month of Ramadan, Muslims daily abstain from food, water and "physical pleasures" — including sexual relations and smoking — from sunrise to sunset. In Salt Lake City, for example, that's a long fast: The U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington calculates as much as 15 hours and 4 minutes of daylight for one day in the period.

It's not just nourishment that's restricted during the period, Chaudry said. Muslims are to "avoid gossip and backbiting," in order to "instill feelings of peace and tranquility" in the lives of those around them.

Chaudry, a married 30-something Baltimore native whose parents immigrated from Lahore, Pakistan, mentions multiple reasons for observing the fast, one of the five pillars of her faith.

"I celebrate it not only because it is a part of my religion, but it's also something that brings me closer, spiritually, to God," she said. "It helps me reset. … It's really a time to reflect. … It's a time of year that really allows you to have better perspective on the important things of life."

She explained how depriving the physical body of food and water helps observers appreciate blessings often taken for granted.

"A lot of times when we eat, we don't think about where our food's coming from," Chaudry said. "It's second nature, we expect that food (will be there). So it's a time that we are so grateful to God that we have these blessings to be able to be healthy."

Preparing to fast

Chaudry acknowledges that the fast of Ramadan is a struggle, whether in North America with long hours of daylight or in a place such as Saudi Arabia, "where temperatures can reach up to 120 (degrees) or 130 degrees (Fahrenheit) during the summer time," she said.

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