Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Ramadan and Understanding

The world's Muslims are well into the thirty day observation of Ramadan, an annual period of fasting and spiritual purification. I freely admit that I am not well informed about Islam even though I have tried to learn more through the years, both by reading and in conversation with Muslims.

It hadn't occurred to me that the geography of Canada would create challenges for some of the faithful. If a Muslim is allowed to break his or her fast at sundown, what if there is no sundown? In the Far North daylight hours are so long that observing the fast could be life-threatening:

Islamic scholars have ruled that in Far North places such as Inuvik, Muslims can go by the time of cities in the south. So for Mr. Suliman and the roughly 100 observant Muslims in Inuvik, when the sun sets in Winnipeg it also sets in Inuvik, at least for the purposes of Ramadan. Otherwise, Muslims in the North would be fasting non-stop for an entire month.

Ahmad Alkhalaf, an engineer who also lives in Inuvik, says observing Ramadan in the North still requires a bit of an adjustment, even though he has lived there for 11 years. “You’re supposed to break your fast when it’s dusk and we eat when the sun is out. So it’s psychologically tough for the first couple of days,” he said. “But we follow time, more than what we’re seeing outside. Otherwise we wouldn’t be able to do this. It’s an abnormal situation.

This is a reminder that Islam is not as rigid as some might think. These are real people dealing with the real challenges of our faith -- just like the rest of us. I wrote before about Osgoode Hall prof Ziyaad Mia who started a program of contributing a loonie a day for hunger relief, a nice tie-in with the theme of fasting This morning I listened to young Muslim women discussing an Iftar, or communal fast-breaking meal which allows them to support one another in a culture where they are the minority. Another group is working on information sharing about Ramadan and Islam to address stereotypes.

It is important to be aware of these challenges and initiatives in our pluralistic society, Maybe this will lead to greater awareness and acceptance.

Do you agree?

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