Just as summer has finally arrived in the mountains of Montana, Central Asia Institute’s Muslim friends around the world have begun to observe the month of Ramadan.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic (lunar) calendar and represents the historic period during which the Koran was revealed to Prophet Muhammad. The Koran is “the sacred scripture that Muslims revere as the words of God,” Imam Sohaib Sultan, of Princeton University, wrote for Time magazine.
“For most of the rest of July, it is Ramadan in the Islamic world, and the focus is on faith, humility, sacrifice, and forgiveness,” said Greg Mortenson, CAI Co-Founder. “Most of the communities we serve observe Ramadan. Even the schoolgirls and teachers observe the fast, but continue on with their education.”
Wakil Karimi, a CAI manager in Afghanistan, said by phone, “Children are taught to observe Ramadan from an early age as one of the five pillars of Islam. But they also learn that the first word of the revelation of Allah in the holy Koran is Iqra – the Arabic word that means ‘read’ – and that education should be a top priority of all Muslims.”
Muslims observe the holiday with extra prayers and by fasting from sunrise to sunset each day, from Suhour, the meal before dawn, to Iftar, the meal after sunset.
As the faithful do not eat or even drink water throughout the day, work slows down during this time in the places where CAI works, Mortenson said. People are tired, having gotten up early to eat before sunrise and stayed up late each night to break the day’s fast. Plus, when Ramadan falls during the summertime, it coincides with power outages in the areas that have electricity, which means no fans or air conditioning on these hot summer days.
“I’ve spent about seven Ramadans in Pakistan or Afghanistan over the past 21 years and often fast with my colleagues,” Mortenson said Wednesday. “During this time, things often fizzle out midday. Everyone is quasi-functional and expectations of productivity are down, however the personal introspection helps renew hope and perseverance. For me, this time has special meaning as a time to slow down, serve the poor and neglected, have reconciliation, introspection and reflection, to make amends, repent, and forgive.”
For non-Muslims, particularly those in the hard-charging Western world, it is important to respect this period of spiritual renewal, he added. CAI Executive Director Jim Thaden agreed.
“Here in the USA, CAI is invigorated and continues to forge ahead with great determination, yet during Ramadan we make an extra effort to do our work with humility and respect,” Thaden said. “Energy and direction are important, but so too is respect for the spirit of the season celebrated by our friends and family.”
The universality of the Ramadan message is important, said Iram Shah, a Chicago-area member of CAI’s board of directors. For Muslims, this is a time for soul-searching and charity, but the principles are shared by people of all faiths around the world.
“I pray that this holy month brings health and happiness to all, regardless of religion or belief, as we are all so close, with the same fears and hopes,” she said.
All the Abrahamic faiths are represented on CAI’s board, which includes three Muslims: Shah, Talat Khan, and Farid Senzai,.
“Ramadan is about love, sacrifice, devotion, forgiveness and caring,” Khan, a retired chemistry teacher from the San Francisco Bay area, said. “It is patience, charity, effort, and one month in a year to try to be a complete human.”
Gratitude is of particular importance during Ramadan, and Karimi took the opportunity to thank CAI and all its supporters “for the gift of education to the poor, which is the most precious and holy gift anyone can give us, to provide a future of hope and peace.
“Peace is important to everybody, but especially to families here, who worry every day whether their children will return home from school, or be injured or killed in suicide bomb, roadside bomb, or shooting,” he said.
Because the Islamic world uses a lunar calendar, the dates of Ramadan change each year on the Gregorian calendar. Each year it begins when the first crescent of the new moon is sighted and will continue into July.
QUOTE: I think it is only important to love the world, not to despise it, not for us to hate each other, but to be able to regard the world and ourselves and all beings with love, admiration, and respect. – Hermann Hesse
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