Fasting is one of the pillars of Islam and every year Muslims fast for a month to detox their bodies and to purify their hearts and souls. Fasting is an act of worship which is designed to bring believers closer to Allah and to rediscover and re-direct themselves and teach themselves self-discipline.
Ramadan is also a time of giving, of charity, of sharing, of engaging, of remembering those in need and reaching out. In keeping with the spirit of the month of Ramadan, mosques should make use of the opportunity to engage with young people and reach out to other communities during this month.
One of the ways in which mosques can bring different communities together is by serving food to all at the time of Iftar throughout the month. The Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him) says: “O people, spread Salam (peace), feed food, maintain your kin relationships, and pray at night while others are asleep. With this, you shall enter Heaven in peace.” [Bukhari]
The purpose of this community Iftar is for people to share a meal together, get to know each other and celebrate shared common values. The inter-communities Iftar provides an opportunity for people of faith and no faith, who may otherwise never visit a mosque, to come through the mosque doors and experience for themselves what mosques are like from the inside, as well as enjoy the art work displayed inside mosque buildings. Such meetings of ‘getting to know each other’ inevitably help break down some of the barriers between different communities and enhance inter-community relations. They also serve the purpose of enabling people to get to know the true teachings of Islam and the universal values that are central to the religion, such as justice, tolerance, respect, compassion and peace.
Ramadan is also a time when mosques are filled with young people. Young people are willing and keen to serve their faith by contributing to their local mosque. The keenness and energy of young Muslim volunteers can be positively channelled by the mosques introducing new initiatives that engage them and capture their interests and imaginations.
The aim of these initiatives would be to inspire the youth to be agents for change and make a difference in the environment that they live in. The initiatives may be distributing hampers to those less fortunate in the locality, visiting elderly in care homes, working together to pick up litter from the streets, or campaigning, in a wise and effective manner against social ills, such as drugs and pornography, or helping to re-generate local areas or some other initiatives that bring joy into the lives of others and reduce hardship in the locality.
Engagement with the youth
Ramadan is also a season of engagement with youth for mosques and Imams. Many young people see the role of mosques as simply a place for ritual prayers. They want to see mosques as dynamic and vibrant institution that are in touch with the challenges faced by young people. Young people expect mosques to hold surgeries or specific study circles, discussing some of the ‘sensitive’ topics affecting British Muslims and providing practical and pragmatic spiritual guidance. The ‘surgeries’/ study circles could be used for a number of purposes; for instance as a forum in which people have the opportunity to talk and discuss marriage problems with the Imam, mufti or other qualified person. Other possible topics for discussion include identity, citizenship, anti-social behaviour, marriage, parenting, drugs, alcohol abuse, estrangement, low self-esteem and extremism. There is no better time than the month of Ramadan to engage young Muslims and the mosques should make the most of this opportunity.
These study circles would also provide an ideal opportunity for an Imam, who might otherwise be cushioned from some of the realities of the every-day lives of young British Muslims, to learn more about the issues facing young people today. At the same time, these type of ‘surgeries’ would prove a genuine source for generating practical ideas to improve the mosques themselves.
Realising the opportunities that the month of Ramadan presents, many mosques, across the country, hold Community Iftars whereby they open the doors of mosques and welcome people of all faiths and no faith, all backgrounds and colours,to their mosques. The Muslim community donates generously towards this goal, in terms of their finances and time, and enjoy sharing a meal with them. ing feeding people. The Community Iftars present an opportunity for people to come together for dialogue; such dialogue must move to learning and action on both sides.
It is imperative that more mosques take part in inter-community/inter-faith Iftars. They can help us explore our commonalities, moral, social and spiritual concerns; sharing good practices with each other can help us develop a robust strategy in facing the challenges of post- modernity.
In Ramadan, Leeds Makkah Masjid has also organised an event on one of the Sundays in Ramadan, whereby local Muslims gave up a total of 100 hours and devoted that time to raise funds and then spend the donations on food to feed people in the community, in particular the less fortunate members of the community.
In a spirit of social responsibility and kindness towards those less fortunate befitting the month of Ramadan, during the month of Ramadan, young volunteers from Makkah Masjid distributed hampers to their neighbours, the homeless, the elderly and local refugees.
In this volunteer-led social action aimed at fostering a sense of social responsibility, youth groups visited churches, shelters and charity shops and neighbours to hand out food and other items of need to them. The youngsters had first raised funds to buy the items required to prepare hampers for the homeless and refugees and had liaised with local businesses and asked them to donate some food for the hampers.
Benefits for Mosques
Organising such and many other events in our mosques serves a number of purposes:
i) they will break down barriers and instil a sense of security and community cohesion in the minds of ordinary people- both Muslims and non-Muslims;
ii) they help to uplift the community’s spirits by allowing Muslims and non-Muslims to share a meal together and discuss shared common values and decide on undertaking some small local action to improve, for example, services in their areas;
iii) when young people – men and women- are involved in organising events in the mosque for everyone in their community, they will feel empowered and have an increased sense of belonging to their locality; and
iv) any social actions undertaken by young Muslims in their area will help to bring joy into the lives of others and possibly reduce hardship in their locality.
Ramadan is a month of engagement and we should all try to make the most of this opportunity by engaging with people around us.
By Dr Qari Muhammad Asim
Imam, Makkah Masjid Leeds
Note: The views expressed are those of the author and may not necessarily reflect that of ImamsOnline.