Sunday, November 10, 2002

Sharing a pillar of Islam

Non-Muslims take part in breaking the Ramadan fast

By Karen Vance
Enquirer contributor

MADEIRA - The large dining room table is covered with Indian cuisine, ready for a Thanksgiving feast, with a plate of dates in the center.

[photo] Jaweed Ansari, his wife, Vasiya, and their son Sami pray the Maghrib prayer, the fourth of five daily prayers in Islam.
(Brandi Stafford photo)
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It's the second night of Ramadan, Islam's holiest month, and Jaweed and Vasiya Ansari have invited friends over to break a day-long fast as part of their religious observance of the month in which the Quran was revealed.

Fasting is one of the five pillars, or commandments, of Islam. It is traditional to invite friends and neighbors, including non-Muslims, to join in the breaking of the fast.

This night, Dr. Ansari has invited Glenn and Andrea Bochner of Sycamore Township and their two children, Alec, 10, and Zoe, 7. The Ansaris and Bochners, a conservative Jewish family, have been friends since Dr. Ansari spoke to the Bochners' synagogue, Ohav Shalom in Sycamore Township, about Islam after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

[photo] Dr. Ansari (right) smiles as guests Zoe Bochner and her brother, Alec, (from left) pass traditional dishes.
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"We found out two religions and respective feelings about the world are very close to one another," Mr. Bochner says. "Our faiths are cousins of one another."

Dr. Ansari adds, "No, half-brothers.

"We virtually agree on everything," he says. "Christians, Jews and Muslims are actually very similar in their beliefs, and a lot of the practices are the same. Our fasting is the same as the fasting prescribed by God for Jews and Christians. In all cases it's intended for people to attain willpower, and it builds your character."

The Ansaris attended a meal at the Bochners for a Sabbath dinner, and Ramadan gave the two families an opportunity to share fast traditions.

As Mr. Bochner arrives, an adhan - or Muslim call to prayer - sings out from the speakers of a computer in another room. The voice signals it is time for iftar, the first food after breaking the fast.

A plate of dates is passed around the table. Dr. Ansari, a physician, explains that the dates have a more traditional meaning than a religious one. The Prophet Muhammad broke his Ramadan fasts with a date, so many Muslims around the world do the same.

Before the group eats, Dr. Ansari says a prayer of thanksgiving for the food, forgiveness of sins and protection from hell.

Islamic Center of Cincinnati, 8092 Plantation Drive, West Chester; community dinners at sundown every Saturday to break the fast; Dec. 1 or 2, the complete recitation of the Quran. Muslims will spend all or part of the night praying.
Mosque Lidd Malik, 1434 Elm St., Over-the-Rhine: nightly meals for the hungry at the break-fast meal at sundown.
Islamic Association of Cincinnati, 3668 Clifton Ave., Clifton; "Together We Learn" seminar, 5 p.m. Nov. 26, with speaker Abourabdel Salam of New York City. Began Nov. 6 and continues until Eid al-Fitr, or the Feast of the Fast-Breaking, about Dec. 6.
Believed to be the month in the Islamic calendar when God revealed the Quran.
Throughout the month, Muslims abstain from food, drink and sex from dawn to sunset. The fast is one of the five "pillars" of Islam, or commandments from God.
Throughout the month, Muslims break the fast with friends and family nightly and participate in special prayers, called taraweeh, after the nighttime prayer.
On Lailat al-Qadr, or the Night of Power or Destiny, Muslims will observe the anniversary of the night the prophet Muhammad began receiving revelations from God through the angel Gabriel.
He hasn't eaten or drunk anything - not even water - since 5:30 a.m., the last meal before sunrise when the fast began.

"This is how half the world lives every day of their lives, and it makes us thankful that we have the ability to break the fast," says Dr. Ansari, who was born in Pakistan and moved to the United States when he was 27.

Mrs. Ansari, who is also of Indo-Pakistani descent, was born in Toronto and moved to the United States when she was a child. She emphasizes the importance of charity, another of Islam's five pillars.

"We increase our charity during the month, and we learn how to control our desires and become God-conscious, to know that God is always watching us," she says.

For meals to break the fast on Saturday and Sunday nights, Muslims and non-Muslims, especially those who cannot afford a large meal, are invited to the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati in West Chester.

Ramadan is about improving oneself, Dr. Ansari says.

"We don't just do it to follow Islam,'' he says. "We do it for ourselves; it builds our character. It's so important that you receive God-consciousness through this act and that it then translates into good deeds."

After a "snack" of Indian foods, including "layered chat"- a mix of chick peas, lentil dough bits, yogurt and tamarin sauce - Dr. and Mrs. Ansari and their two children, Sami, 10, and Kamran, 7, go to the family room to pray the Maghrib, the fourth of five daily prayers performed even when it's not Ramadan.

Dr. Ansari recites the prayer in Arabic, and the family, facing east, follows with a series of arm movements, standing, kneeling and placing their foreheads to the floor.

Alec and Zoe have become fast friends with the two, and as Kamran heads for the basement to play, they look to their parents for permission before following.

The children, who don't begin practicing the fast of Ramadan until puberty, will eat pizza in the kitchen later and show little interest in a buffet of Indian dishes, including salmon, chicken, shrimp, vegetables, salad and lentil sauce, prepared for dinner.

"The boys just love American food," Mrs. Ansari says.

The conversation over dinner turns to world events, the arrest of the snipers in Washington, D.C., and the pending war in Iraq.

"We cannot let foreign events control our lives here," Dr. Ansari says. "We really have to learn to live in peace and harmony."

At about 7 p.m., Dr. Ansari heads to the mosque, where he'll participate in taraweeh, a recitation of about one chapter of the Quran every night during Ramadan. The session, led by a Muslim who has memorized the entire book, will last about two hours.

"The Quran is the direct word of God. It is a miracle in itself and preserved in its true and exact form from more than 1,400 years ago," Dr. Ansari says. "I don't understand Arabic, but when I hear the words of the Quran recited, it moves me."

The writings in the Quran, which he has read in translation, provide answers on how to live your life.

When he returns home from the mosque, he'll say the fifth prayer of the day.

The Ansaris will continue this or a similar routine every night in the lunar month of Ramadan, which continues until Eid al-Fitr, or the Feast of the Fast-Breaking, on about Dec. 6.

On Lailat ul-Qadr, the Night of Power or the Night of Destiny, near Nov. 26, Muslims will observe the anniversary of the night the prophet Muhammad began receiving revelations from God through the angel Gabriel.

Those evenings will be marked with special services at the mosques.

For Muslims all over the world, the religious observances of Ramadan will be mixed with cultural traditions but the meaning of the holiday remains the same for all Muslims, Dr. Ansari says.

"Muslims wear different clothes, eat different food based on their culture. But it's not those things that make them a Muslim," he says. "It's their character and their beliefs."

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