MICHELE NORRIS, host:
For Muslims, this is the holy month of Ramadan. It's a special time for worship, charitable giving and individual reflection and purification. The most well-known way to observe Ramadan is to fast during daylight, but the devout also read the entire Koran and say additional prayers. Commentator Anni Shamim is definitely not devout, but she's fasting for a few days this month. She'd like to encourage more people to celebrate just a little bit of Ramadan along with her.
It's 5 AM, and I'm alone in my kitchen in Ridgefield, Connecticut, staring at my overdone toast and lukewarm cup of tea. I'm not hungry, but I will be all day unless I chow down now before my sehri time is up. Outside the kitchen window, it's almost pitch dark. The yard is an empty expanse, and the neighbors across the street are probably fast asleep.
Ramadan is a lonely time in this quaint New England town, so far from the sizzle and aroma of the Ramadan kitchen I grew up with in Pakistan. Tomorrow when I drive into the center of town to mail a letter or pick up my laundry, nobody will have a clue that I am fasting. There will be no one collecting donations in this Muslim month of charity and giving. None of the shops will be offering complimentary copies of timetables listing the changing daily times for starting and breaking each fast. And when Id comes, celebrating the completion of a month of cleansing and self-control, it will be another non-celebration. And the town will remain quiet and indifferent, until it springs to life later on in preparations for Christmas and Hanukkah.
Why can't we make Id more like Christmas and Hanukkah? What is it about this otherwise festive Muslim holiday that makes it so incompatible with the American mainstream? Ramadan and Id have just not been made inviting enough. They lack the secular aspect that everyone, including non-Muslims, can participate in. Decorating public places, putting up Christmas trees and exchanging gifts make Christmas and Hanukkah accessible to people of all religious backgrounds.
I don't consider myself religious, so am I a hypocrite fasting for a few days of Ramadan when the rest of the year I really don't practice much? No. No, if I'm trying to do my part in bringing a Muslim tradition into America's cultural mix and inviting everyone to celebrate with me. In a growingly hostile world, Muslim children need a sense of normalcy regarding their heritage.
How great it would be to weave Ramadan and its festive finale, the holiday of Id, into the fabric of American secular culture. How wonderful it would be to see banners and streamers reading `Happy Id' on the shop fronts of downtown Ridgefield, to have annoying Id music wafting through every establishment's speaker system, to be able to take kids of all backgrounds to a local jondrod(ph) gathering the night the new moon is sighted, declaring a happy end to fasting days, where all are welcome to have their hands henna painted, try on a hundred colors of glittering glass bangles, eat cheap vendor food and celebrate with the community, and then, as with Christmas and Hanukkah, have a prayer service for those so inclined at a local--Dare I say?--mosque, and a party again, an Id Milan party, afterwards.
Let's put Id right up there with Christmas and Hanukkah. Let's fast if we're going to in jeans and T-shirts and celebrate Id by inviting all our atheist, agnostic, Christian, Jewish and Hindu friends over for a big feast. And until then, (foreign language spoken), happy Ramadan to every one of you.
NORRIS: Anni Shamim lives in Ridgefield, Connecticut.
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