The Muslim holy month of Ramadan is underway. The period of fasting, introspection and prayer has added significance for many this year, because of the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11, and the closer scrutiny some Muslims have felt as a result. In Chicago, some Muslims say Ramadan is an opportunity to show people that Islam is a religion of peace.
At the Muslim Community Center in Chicago, as in mosques throughout the world Friday, followers knelt in long rows for Friday prayers. A message on the center's answering machine says Ramadan would begin on Saturday. Friday, the Imam, or prayer leader, at this mosque reviewed the significance of the ninth month of the Islamic calendar.
According to Islam, it was during Ramadan that the first versus of the Koran, the Muslim holy book, were revealed by God to the prophet Muhammad. Muslims who are physically able are required to refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual activity during daylight hours. For Aqueel Khan, this is also a time to reflect on the last couple of months, to pray for the victims of the September 11 attacks, as well as for victims of the United States' military action in Afghanistan. "It is human nature that when any calamity falls upon a human, then he has no refuge except to get closer to God," he says.
The Imam of this mosque - Elkheir Elkheir agrees that this Ramadan has added significance. "It makes the burden greater on us to reflect on the teachings of the Koran and to see what Allah and Mohammed, may peace be upon him, exactly want from us, want the Muslims to do," he explains.
Because of the terrorist attacks and the resulting war against terrorists, Muslims in the United States seem to be getting more attention from the public and news media than they have received in years. Aqueel Khan says not all of the attention has been welcome. Many Americans actually want to know what Islam is about and many Americans try to find out the faults, the defects," Mr. Khan says.
In the weeks immediately after the attacks, some Muslims in the United States became victims of harassment or violence. Some still say they feel non-Muslims are watching them as if they are would-be terrorists. Mr. Khan says he, like most Muslims, condemns the terrorist attacks. He says with all this attention focused on Muslims now, it is an opportunity to clear the misconceptions some Americans have about Islam. "This is, I feel, a blessing in disguise," he says. "Those who claim to be Muslims, like me, I have to project through my deeds not only lip service what Islam is."
The Chicago area is home to about 400,000 Muslims.
One Islamic organization plans a public forum Sunday November 18 on Muslims and their work in Chicago. It is expecting about 4,000 people to attend.