Interviews by Will Pearson
Muslims in Peterborough and around the world are currently observing Ramadan, the most holy season of the Islamic year. We asked local Muslims to share with us what Ramadan means to them and how they observe it. Here’s what they said:
Shaikh Shazim Khan
Shaikh Shazim Khan is the Imam at the Masjid Al-Salaam, Peterborough’s mosque.
Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five fundamental pillars of Islam. One of the main reasons for fasting is to develop a relationship with God by staying away from the things human beings are normally accustomed to, and focusing on God.
A lot of times we talk about trying to relieve world poverty, but it’s difficult to understand people’s situations unless you actually experience some kind of poverty yourself. So, when we fast from 3:30 in the morning to 9:00 in the evening, I think we get a good picture of what hunger is all about. We encourage people to take the food they would normally eat when they are not fasting and donate it to a hungry individual, either locally or abroad.
Fasting is an individual responsibility, but on weekends we have a community iftar [the evening meal breaking the day’s fast during Ramadan]. Sometimes individuals sponsor food for the whole community, or a group comes together to make food for the people. And every night around 10:30 we pray for an hour, or an hour and a half. We pray every night during Ramadan. After Ramadan, after 30 days of vigorous worship there is a prayer, and the main purpose of this is to celebrate and show gratitude to God for giving us the opportunity to engage in this vigorous kind of worship.
Shegufa Merchant is a teacher and researcher at Trent University.
Fasting is one of the prescribed tenets of Islam, and it allows you to elevate yourself spiritually. This is what Ramadan means to me: in layman’s terms, it is sort of a detoxification, both physically and mentally, and therefore spiritually.
But Ramadan also allows you to connect with your God by doing good deeds for the community. It’s not only personal observances that make you spiritually elevated; it’s also your charity. Your deeds make you spiritually elevated as well.
I’ve had the blessing of celebrating Ramadan in both Canada and a Muslim-majority country, and it has its charms in both places. But one of the most important messages of Islam is that you continue to live your daily life, you don’t become a hermit to become connected to God. You continue doing all your duties as a family member, a member of society, and as a member of a profession. Your daily routines are integrated with your spiritual duties. So in Canada, where our daily routines are not predominantly Islamic, I continue going to work where everybody else is not fasting. I just blend in. I don’t look for a concession because I’m Muslim and I’m fasting, but people are conscious of it and they’re so good about it. That makes it special, living in Canada and observing Ramadan.
Joummana Mualem is a Syrian newcomer; she and her family arrived in Canada last year.
Ramadan is a holy month. We practice fasting and we control ourselves and we heed what people in need feel. You control yourself to be very good at this month at least. Your health gets better, especially after the first or second day. The first day is the hardest for me, because I used to drink coffee. But you can stop whatever you want to. It makes you more patient, and it makes you more healthy.
For our family, we all gather to break fasting, every night. All Muslims around the world gather around the fasting table. They wait for the sun to set to start to drink and eat and they will pray together. It’s really a holy month for us.
This is our first Ramadan in Canada. The weather is good here because it is not so hot. So it’s good for us because we don’t have to drink. Last Ramadan we were in United Arab Emirates which is so hot. Also it’s a long day, so it was terrible. Here it is much better, the weather is really good.
Mohammad Samkari is the president of the Trent Muslim Students’ Association.
For every Muslim, Ramadan is a holy month. We focus on reading the Qur’an, we pray, and we fast all day. Ramadan in Canada is the toughest Ramadan in the world because we fast almost 19 hours.
Ramadan is tough for students, because during school we still fast. We can’t drink and we can’t have food. But Canadians understand that Ramadan is a holy month for Muslims and they try to help us by not giving us more work or homework.
This is my first year being involved with the TMSA, and being president as well. I am trying to gather everybody together, not just Muslims. We are holding a Ramadan tent for everybody, to show Canadians what Ramadan is, and what Islamic culture is. We’re also planning to have an Eid party [the holiday celebrating the end of Ramadan] and everybody in Peterborough is invited. It’s going be at Trent on June 26. This year with the [Trent Muslim Students’ Association] my goal is to invite everybody to know more about Islamic culture and Islam. Everybody is welcome.