The month of Ramadan, the ninth month in the Muslim calendar and the holiest month of Islam, has begun. Muslims the world over have embarked on a month of abstinence, reflection, and soul searching. VOA's Amin Fekrat reports from Washington.
Muslims once again started Ramadan under unique circumstances, this time beginning at almost the same time Americans were marking the six year anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks that were carried out in the name of Islam.
President Bush took the occasion to send greetings to Muslims observing Ramadan, saying the United States is enriched by its Muslim citizens. There are estimated to be about 6 million Muslims in the United States.
Imam Elahi, of the "House of Wisdom" in Dearborn Heights, Michigan, says he hopes the followers of other religions will listen to what the president said.
"Islam is a religion of peace, and the president of the United States has said more than once that Islam is a religion of peace," says Elahi. "We have to continue to build bridges, as Islam does, because, if we have to 'talk the talk', we have to 'walk the walk.' This will help establish better communications between the United States and the Islamic world based on peace and justice and respect."
Elahi says the condemnation of the terrorists and terrorism is absolute and without reservation under the Koran and the sunnah, the deeds of the prophet of Islam as recorded and passed to successive Muslim generations.
Elahi says there is a spiritual dimension to Ramadan that is common among all the monotheistic religions, one that could become a more powerful source of strength and solidarity among all faiths. The imam says this bond may enable people to weather the storm of terrorism and the scourge of war. He says peace may not come through violence, but through the power of the human will to depend on God alone.
Elahi speaks of the efforts made by the House of Wisdom, a large Islamic Center, to bring about understanding and commonality among the followers of many different religions.
"The center makes presentations in different languages, open to all, Muslims and non-Muslims," noted Elahi. "It engages in charity work to help the hungry and the homeless. The center also makes an effort to encourage the non-Muslims to fast for at least a day and break their fasts with us, as an opportunity to experience the spiritual transformation and help develop a discipline in relationship with themselves, with God and their fellow human beings."
During Ramadan, adult Muslims begin a fast - avoiding food, drink, and sex during daylight hours. They see fasting as a way to cleanse the heart from sin, selfishness, greed, pride, impatience and hypocrisy. They believe fasting brings appreciation for one's life and sympathy for those who suffer. The Koran does not require travelers, nursing mothers, the sick and soldiers on the march to fast - but these people are expected to make up the days missed, as the opportunity arises.
Muslim leaders say the month is about experiencing a spiritual energy, which provides healing and harmony in the human family and creates a stronger personal discipline, a stronger community, and a stronger country.
Muslims trace the origin of their religion to the year 610 AD. According to tradition, Mohammad Bin Abdallah, a member of the elitist Quraysh tribe from Mecca, received the first divine injunction on the "Night of Power" in the month of Ramadan.
Muslims believe that Mohammad was suddenly engulfed by the divine presence commanding him to, according to the Koran, "Recite in the name of thy sustainer, the sustainer who has created humankind from germ cells."
The holy month of Ramadan starts when the sliver of the new moon is sighted, to the satisfaction of each community or country. This explains the the difference in the first day of fasting among various Islamic countries.
Like many other Islamic scholars, Imam Elahi believes that introducing certainty into the annual ritual of the sighting of the new moon would require resorting to science and seeking assistance from advances made in astronomy, aided by modern computers.
Fasting, daily prayers, alms giving, Hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca, the acknowledgment of the oneness of God and the mission of Mohammad as God's chosen messenger, make up the five pillars of Islam.
Muslims believe the Koran emphasizes reason, perpetual search for truth, careful observation, contemplation, and transcendence above worldly pursuits. In the process of religious search, Muslims are to find the "signs" and the "clarifiers" that lead to God, as the eternal truth and the source of all existence.
The religion-based Islamic quest became a foundation for scientific method. The discoveries made by early Islamic scholars advanced natural sciences, math, medicine and astronomy in the early centuries of the religion's expansion. Early Islamic scholars and scientists are also credited with preserving much of the classical knowledge of the ancient world.
Since then, ethnic, tribal and cultural differences have superseded the Islamic injunctions for perpetual search. Many modern Muslims are convinced the rise of genuine Islamic revivalism as a positive force may once again place their communities on the right path.
Many of today's Muslims are dismayed that their religion is tarnished by terrorism and violence. "Islam is a religion that teaches compassion," says Imam Elahi, "during Ramadan and throughout the year."