Bahai News - Muslims prepare for month of fasting, prayer
Today: November 16, 2001 at 9:57:42 PST
Muslims prepare for month of fasting, prayer
By Stacy J. Willis
LAS VEGAS SUN
Dr. Sayed Qazi -- a long-bearded, sock-footed physician -- identifies
with James Dean.
He is sitting on the carpeted floor at Las Vegas' Haseebullah Mosque talking
about his role in international affairs. Muslims, he says, have long seen
themselves as outsiders. "Anti-heros," he says. "Like James Dean."
But on Sept. 11, he says, the role of Muslims changed.
"Muslims in America are going to play a role in bridging the gap between the
U.S. and Muslims in the rest of the world," Qazi said.
The Islamic holy month of Ramadan -- which begins at the siting of the new
moon this weekend -- serves as a time for Muslims to focus on their religious
devotion by fasting and praying.
"It's a time for spiritual renewal," Usman Malik, president of the UNLV
Muslim Student Association, said.
"And it is especially important this year."
Since Sept. 11, the media has shown unprecedented interest in Islam,
civic leaders have called for acceptance of Muslims and, according to
Religion News Service, U.S. sales of the Quran have quintupled.
Local Muslims have become acutely aware of their call to educate
non-Muslims about their beliefs.
"We have begun making an effort to reach out," said Aziz Eddebbarh,
local Muslim public affairs council representative.
Las Vegas Muslims have hosted several open houses -- where pamphlets
such as "Islam, the Misunderstood Religion" are made available along
with pastries and soda and friendly handshakes.
Evidence of a growing -- and multi-faceted -- Muslim community is
apparent throughout Las Vegas. Clark County's first Islamic grade
school, the Omar Haikal Islamic Academy, opened in September.
Additionally, local Muslims fill four mosques and support UNLV's Muslim
Student Association. The Las Vegas Muslim population is characterized by
its cultural diversity.
On a night last week, a group of Muslims from different backgrounds
gathered at Masjid Haseebullah to show their unity.
Qazi was born into a Muslim family in Pakistan. Fateen Seifullah was
raised a Southern Baptist, but found his way to "traditional" Islam
through the Nation of Islam. Mustafa Yunus studied several faiths --
from Baha'i to Buddhism -- before becoming a Muslim. Malik's family is
from Afghanistan. Eddebbarh was born into a Muslim family in Morocco.
Mohamed Trabia is a Muslim from Egypt.
"The ritualistic part of Islam is fairly consistent wherever you go,"
Trabia, a UNLV engineering professor, said. "It is politics, or culture,
Muslims subscribe to five principles of belief: There is one God, Allah,
and Muhammad was his prophet. Prayer should be performed five times a
day. A zakat, or 2.5 percent tax on annual income, should be paid to
help the needy. Each year, Muslims fast during Ramadan. And, if
possible, at least once in a lifetime, Muslims should make a pilgrimage
to the first Muslim house of worship in Mecca.
Eddebbarh said his faith was enhanced when he left Morocco to attend
college in the United States in 1979.
"I was blessed to be born into a religious, scholarly family," Eddebbarh
said. "I had grown up in a fairly homogeneous community. Here in the
melting pot, the freedom of religious expression I saw really put Islam
into perspective for me. I was able to compare it to other religions,
and learn about social responsibility. I think here in the U.S. the true
Islamic character comes out."
Qazi said that although he was born into the faith, he "chose" Islam
when he came to the United States.
"When we say we chose, we mean we discarded the cultural baggage and
chose the faith," Qazi said.
During Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, many of the
estimated 8,000 Las Vegas Muslims will focus on their devotion to God by
abstaining from eating, drinking and sexual relations during daylight
hours and attending mosques for regularly scheduled prayers each day.
Fasting is meant to teach self-restraint, patience, unselfishness and a
spirit of social unity.
Muslims warned that U.S. bombing of Afghanistan during the holy month
Ramadan would contradict that spirit of unity by causing an Islamic
backlash against the United States.
But the collapse of the Taliban in Kabul may have allowed for
scaled-back operations just in time for Ramadan.
"We hoped the U.S. would not bomb during Ramadan. It is a month of peace and
worship," Khalid Khan, president of the Islamic Society of Nevada, said.
Ramadan's sanctity did not stop Muslim Iraqi soldiers from fighting
Muslim Iranian soldiers in the 1980s, nor did it stop Egypt and Syria
from launching the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.
Still, local Muslims say a decision to carry out military activities
during Ramadan could undermine America's effort to build cohesive
support of its foreign policy.
"If there is bombing, there will be a reaction among American Muslims.
It will only help the Islamic radicals, because they will say, 'See? The
U.S. doesn't respect Islam,' " Khan said.
"We want this to be a time of peace."
©Copyright 2001, Las Vegas Sun
Page last updated/revised 111601
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