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    American Muslims Prepare for Holy Month of Ramadan

    As the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins, Muslim Americans across the United States are gathering in mosques and homes just as Muslims do around the world. VOA's Mohamed Elshinnawi tells us how American Muslims are observing their holy month.

    There are an estimated six to eight million Muslims in the United States, comprised mainly of immigrants from the Arab world, as well as converts to Islam. Regardless of their country of origin, American Muslims observe Ramadan with a set of traditional rituals.  Families shop at Halal meat stores, prepare Iftar meals to break their fast with family and friends and pray together. Some Muslim Americans shop for special items such as dates and Ramadan sweets at specialty food stores.

    Shala Haroun, an American Muslim from Kashmir, misses the big family gathering on Ramadan. "Ramadan back home is a lot more fun, there is a lot more family, a bigger Indian community and you get your whole family together, while here you are with just a couple of your family."

    Islamic centers and mosques are thriving with Muslim American praying and reading the Koran. Imam Hassan Qazwini of the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, Michigan says the center has a special program for Ramadan. "Every night, after the nightly prayers, the Islamic Center will hold a special session that consists of recitation of the holy Koran, the interpretation of the Koran, as well as some other lectures."

    He says as many as 1,000 people go to daily evening prayers at the Islamic Center of America during Ramadan, and there will be a special program for American-born Muslim Americans.

    "The English-speaking part of our congregation, we will have a special program for them. We believe that these will be the ambassadors of Islam to non-Muslims. They will be the ones who will carry the banner of Islam, therefore there will be a very specialized program catered to the youth."

    For Muslim American groups, Ramadan has served as a means to educate the American public about the holidays of Muslims and the Islamic faith. Dawud Walid is the executive director in Michigan of the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations. "[The] Council on American Islamic Relations sends out information relating to Ramadan to our non-Muslim constituency and friends as well as we organize programs in which we speak about Ramadan. We do this in conjunction with not only Islamic centers but even with groups and interfaith groups as well, so this has been a highly successful campaign."

    Some events planned by Muslim Americans to educate other Americans about Islam during Ramadan include holding open houses at local mosques and Islamic centers, public lectures on Ramadan and interfaith Iftars. Muslim American organizations also place TV ads to remind all Americans that Muslims are an integral part of the American society.

    Since the early 1990s, the president has issued happy Ramadan greetings to the more 1.2 billion Muslims worldwide, and he invites the ambassadors of Muslim countries and Muslim American leaders to the White House for Iftar.

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