In my very first class as a law student, I arrived early so I could grab my favorite seat. Halfway back in the lecture hall, halfway down the row. Right in the middle. I have been so very thankful for that seat selection for almost 20 years. Just before the bell rang, a woman rushed in and sat next to me. Thus began a beautiful friendship. My new friend was originally from Iran. She had been raised in the United States since adolescence but carefully explained to me that she was Persian. We spent the next three years studying the law, learning how to be great lawyers, and so much more. I explained random Americana references (hello, Swiss Family Robinson); she showed me the beauty of the culture she was born into. She answered my (sometimes entirely stupid) questions about what it meant to be Muslim in America.
Ramadan occurs during the ninth month of the lunar Islamic calendar. In 2022, that falls from April 1 to May 1. Followers of Islam believe that all scripture was revealed during Ramadan. During Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn until dusk and devote more time to prayer and acts of charity. It is a time to focus on their faith and to perform acts of generosity. All healthy adults are expected to fast. Small children, the elderly, and the ill are excused, along with menstruating, pregnant, or breastfeeding women if it could harm their child, as well as those who are traveling.
Each year, my friend fasts for each day of Ramadan from dawn till dusk. Fasting includes abstaining from both food and liquids—including water. She also refrains from other “sinful” behavior such as cursing and gossip. At dusk, she joins with fellow celebrants at her mosque to break their fast, pray, and congregate as a community to share a meal called iftar. This year, she invited my family to join her community in breaking their fast. She asked that we dress conservatively and explained that some of the women would have their heads covered in the mosque. When I was nervous about my kids not being able to be quiet during the prayer, she laughed and said kids are always loud. It’s a universal truth.
Before we went, I talked about Ramadan with my kids and drew parallels to other religious observances they were already familiar with. The Quran says, “Oh, you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that you may learn piety and righteousness,” in acknowledgment that other religions have also fasted as a way to grow in their faith. On Yom Kippur, the Jewish people fast, make amends, and ask forgiveness for sins committed during the past year. During Lent, Christians show their devotion to their faith—some by fasting, and some by giving up something they enjoy. We talked about how people all over the world show dedication to their faith in similar ways. We talked about food that is special to people of different cultures and faiths—why Christians eat fish during Lent and what the funny-sounding “kugel” is. This year, they got to experience sooji halwa (a sweet concoction that my extremely picky-eater son couldn’t get enough of) and achari chicken (a spicy chicken made with pickling spices that my daughter inhaled).
We went to the Muslim Children Education and Civic Center (MCECC). During the month of Ramadan, evening celebrations are open to the public. Start times vary somewhat depending on when the sunset is. We were offered a small bite and some water at dusk to break the fast and then went into the mosque for prayer. The actual prayer was short—less than 10 minutes. My dad, husband, and son were on the men’s side, and I later learned that my friend’s son helped my son go through the prayer motions. We were on the women’s side where, after prayer, we were offered a variety of delicious tidbits while we chatted about all sorts of topics. We learned that there would be another prayer a couple of hours later. Some families would go home, and some people would stay for the second prayer and another round of food. In the last few days of Ramadan, a small group of men, women, and children planned to stay at the mosque and immerse themselves in a period of prayer and reflection.
Each year MCECC sponsors a “Fastathon” where they invite the public to take part in a day of fasting with them. At the end of the day, they invite everyone to break their fast at the center and a donation of $100 is given to a local charity in celebration. This year, the Fastathon is on April 22 and supports Family Violence Prevention Services.
I also met a woman from the Raindrop Foundation. Their goal is to “establish bridges between the Turkic and American cultures and communities by providing easily accessible educational, social, and cultural services.” In past years they have partnered with the Jewish Community Center and the Unitarian Universalists of San Antonio for Ramadan celebrations. They have all sorts of outreach and education events throughout the year. There are also several other mosques in town, and most have websites with their worship schedule. I was told that the public is generally welcome to iftar. If you are considering visiting, keep in mind that men and women worship separately and kids can go to either side. As with other faiths, some mosques are more conservative than others. In general, if you cover your knees and shoulders and bring a scarf to cover your head if you are female, you should be fine.
San Antonio is a beautifully diverse community and we loved exploring a side of the city and its people that was new to us. We are already planning our next adventures!