Changing Ramadan Rituals

September 27, 2008

Author: Michelle Boorstein

Source: The Washington Post

Growing up in southern Egypt, Mohamed Sayed ended Ramadan's daily fast with lots of friends and relatives sharing a big feast, sitting around the television, drinking sweet tea and eating dates "like Thanksgiving multiplied by 30."

Now 28 and living in Alexandria, Sayed is less traditional. For Ramadan, which began Sept. 2 and ends Thursday, he combines his iftars -- the end of his daily fast -- with his book club, "success strategies" meetings for young professionals and even a casual dinner at T.G.I. Friday's with a few friends.

"It's not just about the food," Sayed said, "it's also about being part of the community."

The ninth month of the Islamic calendar, Ramadan is the time when Muslims believe the Koran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. Islam calls for Muslims to abstain from food, drink and sex from dawn to dusk, sharpen their self-discipline and focus on becoming closer to God.

Sayed's experience illustrates how the iftar is changing for many American Muslims. Traditionally observed daily with big family or neighborhood meals after sunset, some in smaller Muslim communities are celebrating the holiday just a few times a week.

Others, particularly since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, have used the holiday for activism, organizing iftars around Islam-related films or lectures or interfaith events. These changes represent soul-searching by some Muslims about how to create an American Islam, a trend pushed in particular by progressive Muslims seeking gender equity and more engagement with other faiths.