Ramadan in America, like elsewhere in the world, is a month of fasting, prayer, charitable giving and reflection. Muslim Americans of diverse backgrounds and national origins gather in Islamic centers across the U.S. to worship and celebrate their faith. For many, Ramadan also is an opportunity to educate non-Muslim friends about their culture and traditions.
"Fasting is an important matter especially in this month," said an Imam speaking to Muslims in the Washington area. As the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins, American Muslims gather in Islamic centers to worship, break the dawn-to-dusk fast together, recite their holy book - the Koran - and help the poor.
Imam Abdulla Khouj is President of the Islamic Center in Washington, the oldest one in the U.S. capital. He said, "We try to make people feel like they are in any Muslim country and Muslim community. We offer the meal to break their fast. We have more than 500 people, males and females, their children, families and, also as far as prayers, we have a lot of people. They come and pray with us."
Imam Bassim Sayed leads a congregation in San Diego, but was visiting Washington, D.C. He has a similar plan.
"We will be reciting the Koran every evening," said Imam Sayed. "We will be feeding the poor at Iftar [fast breaking] and getting together to celebrate this great month in which the Koran was revealed for the benefit of mankind."
For Muslim Americans, Ramadan means improving self-discipline and helping others. Abbas Mohamed is a diplomat from Chad.
"Ramadan is the greatest month of the year, a month of forgiveness, prayers and sharing everything with your neighbors," said Mohamed.
But as a minority living in a non-Muslim society, some Muslim Americans find Ramadan challenging. "Mostly it is at work or school. For students it is harder because not everyone around you is fasting or understands what Ramadan is," said Mohamed.
However young Muslim Americans, like Belal Sayed, are finding ways to meet the challenges. "I face many challenges, but I focus on the Koran and the challenges become easier for me to fast every day," said Sayed.
Imam Khouj believes the Ramadan greetings offered by American presidents have helped raise awareness about Ramadan among Americans.
"The president of a great country acknowledges the fact that people are fasting and somehow shares with them their feelings, and at the same time makes them feel that they are welcomed in this country," said Imam Khouj. In addition, he says Ramadan is an opportunity to educate non-Muslims during interfaith Iftars. He says the diversity among U.S. Muslims gives Ramadan in America a special flavor.