By: Saleh Mubarak
Those of us who grew up in a country with Muslim majority remember how Ramadan had a special respect by all citizens. Restaurants and coffee shops would close during fasting hours and those who did not fast, Muslims as well as non-Muslims, refrained from eating, drinking, or smoking in public. The entire atmosphere would tell you that this is Ramadan! I still remember Akram, a Syrian Christian, who spent a university summer camp with me along with many other classmates in 1977. Ramadan came in while we were in the camp. Akram refused to eat or drink in front of us despite our pleas with him to do so since he was not a Muslim. When he felt hungry or thirsty, he would sip or nibble in an isolated place so he won’t be seen eating or drinking in front of us. At sunset time, he would sit with us to share the iftar meal with us. This story was the norm, and not the exception in Syria and other Muslim-majority countries. It brought people from different religions closer together. Muslims also respected the Christian religious events and shared the joy with their Christian neighbors.
Fasting in Ramadan is one of the obligations on every adult Muslim who is able to do it. However, what makes fasting different from other acts of worship is that all acts of worship are actions while fasting is abstaining from certain actions. This is why only Allah knows if the person is truly fasting or not. Fasting is a personal thing; a matter between the individual and Allah. In a Hadeeth Qudsi, Allah says: “All of the deeds of the son of Adam are his except fasting, it is for me and I am the one who rewards it.” But people have the choice to obey or disobey (And say, "The truth is from your Lord, so whoever wills - let him believe; and whoever wills - let him disbelieve) (The Holy Quran, 18-29). Of course, this freedom comes along with responsibility and consequences for the choices we make.
No one has the right to force others into fasting or praying but respecting the atmosphere of Ramadan is a must on every Muslim. That’s why Muslim scholars said that even those who have permission not to fast, such as travelers and ill people, should avoid eating and drinking in public. But that’s in Muslim countries not here in the U.S., right? Right, we have no right to force our culture on others. We realize the fact we are a small minority but there are two things we can do. First, we uphold the “Ramadan atmosphere” in our homes and small communities where we have control. We teach our kids that it’s not okay to disrespect or ignore Ramadan. Second, we convey the message of Ramadan, and Islam in general, to the bigger community. We tell them about our great religion and that we share a lot of values. If we are invited to an event where food and drink are served, we politely inform that why we can’t eat or drink before sunset. We take advantage of Ramadan to tell them what Islam is all about.