Though a Muslim observance, Ramadan could have cultural significance for non-Muslims

Syed Rizvi

Editor's Note: "Peace be upon him" (sometimes abbreviated "pbuh") is a salutation for the prophets of Islam. Who receives salutations depends on the school of thought. It is a mandatory practice per the Quran and hadiths.

There are seven Muslim organizations registered at UT, 5 to 12 million Muslims in America and around 1.7 billion Muslims across the globe. Since this past Sunday, they are almost all observing the holy month of Ramadan. Chances are that you already know or will come to know a Muslim. However, despite the number of Muslims in America, Ramadan is only vaguely known. Considering that many people don’t know about Ramadan, I would like to briefly introduce to you to the month that so many people, including Longhorns, hold dear. Because regardless of our faith or affiliations, building mutual understanding is necessary for a citizenry with integrity.  

Ramadan was declared as a holy month by Allah via chapter 2 verse 185. As the verse reads, Muslims fast because Ramadan is the month that the Quran was revealed to the world. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which is based on the lunar cycle. The month of Ramadan falls on different dates every year because the lunar calendar is shorter than the solar calendar, which is used by most countries including the United States. Throughout this month, from sunrise to sunset, Muslims around the world fast, abstaining from food, water, smoking and sex. The meal eaten before sunrise is called suhoor, and the meal at sunset is called iftar. Due to the diversity of the Muslim population, there is not a typical meal eaten. However, there are traditions that are common across cultures like eating dates, which is considered sunnah, or a tradition of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Ramadan is often characterized as a simple fast from sustenance — a gross simplification. Ramadan is about spirituality, community and charity. Although I have stated these three items as separate ideas, in Islam they are intertwined and interdependent. It is crucial to note that Islam is unique in that it is a complete way of life, encompassing politics, law and society, detailing every aspect of an individual’s life. Thus, when I talk about spirituality as a separate item I am talking about prayer and the study of Islam, but in Islam, spirituality is all-inclusive.  

Becoming closer to your creator is one of the fundamental goals of Ramadan. In addition to the regular five daily prayers, Muslims spend time reading extra prayers, studying Islam and reading the Quran. For example, Muslims of the Sunni sect have the tradition of reciting between 20 and 36 prayers after the last daily prayer, called Tarawih. Tarawih is read every night, and by the end of the month, the congregation will have finished the entire Quran.

Prayers like the Tarawih are not only a time to advance one’s spirituality, but they are also an opportunity to hang out with your brothers and sisters in faith and humanity, growing both your bonds with each other and your bond with Allah. When sunset finally approaches, families and communities come together to break the fast, which is a lot like Thanksgiving, except for 30 days straight. Because Muslims strive to become perfect in their morals and ethics, Ramadan is a time when honesty, patience and love fill the air, much like the Christmas joy I’ve come to know.

During Ramadan Muslims practice charity, or Zakah, a pillar of Islam, by the use of words, actions and money. Through words, Muslims exhibit great enthusiasm and companionship with other Muslims during Ramadan. They are more kind, generous, patient and inviting than they normally are. Beyond words, Muslims extend olive branches to anyone with whom they may have broken relationships. To strangers and all, they try to give a helping hand. Lastly, giving charity in the form of money is a huge driver for mosques and charity organizations. According to a hadith, Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) said "Charity is a proof [of faith]" and “The best charity is that which is given in Ramadan.” For example, the United Muslim Relief chapter at the University of Texas at Austin is hosting an online campaign to raise money for the victims of the Syrian conflict.

Now, if you are a non-Muslim, it is vital that you not see Ramadan as an alienating distinction. Ramadan is also a time where non-Muslims and Muslims grow their mutual understanding. The concepts of community, spirituality and charity also extends to non-Muslims. During this month, Muslims reach out to non-Muslims by having discussions over faith, working together for charity, or hosting them for iftars.

For example, I have had friends fast with me, an experience that was mutually beneficial. Besides gaining an appreciation for food, my friends also broadened their perspective of Islam and Muslims, which is so often misrepresented and misunderstood as a religion of violence and hate. For me, I was humbled and inspired by their dedication to act when they were not obliged to. More importantly, we built bonds that go beyond tolerance and toward greater understanding. An understanding that strengthens America and the University of Texas at Austin because our story is a story of progress that thrives on diversity.

Rizvi is a government senior from Chicago. Follow Rizvi on Twitter @SyedMuzziRizvi.