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


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, that differs."

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

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