For those of you who may not know how the “Living and Growing” column works, the various faith communities in Juneau are asked to provide a column about their faith. There are guidelines and deadlines. Fortunately, there is also a very organized person (from Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church or from the Unitarian Universalist congregation) who sends out a calendar with dates noting associated holidays that writers may choose from.
Oftentimes the articles are written by clergy. In the case of small communities (like the Jewish community) they are written by congregants. Patricia Turner-Custard, who is a published award-winning author and I submit on behalf of the Jewish community of Congregation Sukkat Shalom. This time, I signed up to write a column on a date that corresponds with Ramadan, the most holy celebration of faithful Muslims.
All things considered it is strange that as a Jewish woman I chose a Muslim holiday to write about. After all, a column about Islam should be written by someone who is of that faith. But a comment made by a participant at an Interfaith Council meeting (where people of all faiths should feel safe to attend), stating that Muslims who live in Juneau are afraid to practice their faith openly, saddened me more than I can say. It pushed me to choose this date that I feared would go unrecognized if someone did not step forward.
Too often we rely on ill-informed rhetoric and misinformation when making broad reaching conclusions about many issues in our lives. And certainly castigating different religious groups is right up at the top of our misconceptions. During my research I discovered that most faiths (and Islam is no exception) revolve around a central premise of love, respect for other human beings and peace. That is not to say that all people who purport to be one of the faithful of any particular faith follow those tenants. It is unfortunately true that the history of religion is filled with examples of treachery, total and complete indifference to human suffering, and even genocide in the name of “G-d” by the “faithful.”
This column is a brief and very basic snapshot of what I learned about Islam. I share it with the hope that a near-future column will be written by one of our Muslim neighbors.
The holy book for Muslims is called the Qu’ran. The Qu’ran is regarded as a guide to living life in harmony with the Creator, Allah. According to Wikipedia “the word Allah has been used by Arabic people of different religions since pre-Islamic times. More specifically, it has been used as a term for God by Muslims (both Arab and non-Arab) and Arab Christians. It is also often, albeit not exclusively, used in this way by Bábists, Bahá’ís, Mandaeans, Indonesian and Maltese Christians, and Mizrahi Jews.”
The Qu’ran encompasses stories that tell about the creation of the world and mankind and overlaps with stories from the Hebrew Torah and the Christian New Testament. The Qu’ran reveals the nature of Allah and acknowledges the relationships of Jews, Christians and Muslims, through recounting stories about and honoring biblical figures such as Adam, Abraham and Jesus. The Qu’ran teaches the importance of peace and inclusions where all people are equal in the eyes of Allah. Muslims practice the five pillars of Islam that are faith, prayer, charity, self-purification and the pilgrimage to Mecca. During certain times each day, adherents to Islam pray. In Islam it is important to pray with a community. Prayers begin with the first prayer before sunrise and ends with the fifth prayer before going to bed at night. With these prayers people remember and acknowledge Allah and his role in their lives, as well as seek guidance and mercy.
On May 15, Muslims around the world will begin celebrating Ramadan, Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and is observed by Muslims worldwide as a month to commemorate the first revelation of the Qu’ran to Muhammad. The month of Ramadan centers around fasting, praying and contemplating what changes a person needs to make to be closer to Allah and to be a better person. Throughout the entire month Muslims who are healthy enough will fast from sunrise to sundown. Muslims view fasting and abstaining from other pleasures as a way to learn more patience, work towards breaking bad habits, as an act of worship, a chance to get closer to Allah and a way to become more compassionate to those in need. Ramadan prepares Muslims for the rest of the year by focusing on the discipline and self-control the month has given worshipers.
The last 10 days of Ramadan include the “Night of Destiny” when Muslims believe that Allah sent the Angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad and revealed the first verses of the Qu’ran. It is on this night that Muslims seek to have their prayers answered.
After Ramadan winds down faithful Muslims strive to maintain the insights they learned and practiced throughout Ramadan. As the year progresses Muslims continue to practice a faith that is peaceful. They pray that Allah makes them better people who keep moving forward, are not complacent, and that they are granted righteous companions who inspire them and who are inspired by them.
And as always they pray: “As-Salam-u-Alaikum.” Peace be unto you.
• Chava Lee is a member of Congregation Sukkat Shalom. “Living & Growing” is a reoccurring column written by different authors and submitted by local clergy and spiritual leaders.