I'm a Christian. Specifically, I belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Yes, I'm a Mormon. In fact, I'm a very active Mormon. I believe the doctrine, I attend church every Sunday, I read the Holy Scriptures, I pray, I attend the temple when I can and I try to live my life in harmony with the teachings of the Savior as much as I can. I'm not perfect, but I try to do my best. My wife is the same, and we're raising our daughter in the church as well. However, in two days, I'll be participating in the most holy month of Islam- Ramadan. But wait, didn't I just say I was Christian? What is a Christian doing participating in a Muslim religious observance?
Well, the story is a long one, loaded with details I won't bother covering here. To keep it short, I served a mission for my church in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. I spent two years of my life there preaching the Good Word and spreading the Gospel to all that would hear it. It was there I met my wife actually. But, during this time, I developed a great love for those I was serving. You see, Toronto is one of the most multi-cultural cities in the world. I think at the time I was there, it was said to be the home of 80 different cultures, with hundreds of different spoken dialects. It wasn't uncommon to talk to a Buddhist at one door, a nihilist at another, a Christian at the third and a Muslim at the fourth. As you spent your day among the people, you really were dipped deeply in many cultures.
Many LDS missionaries say that their mission was the best mission in the world, because they grew to love the people they were with so much, and had experiences that they wouldn't trade for anything. Well, in Toronto, the world was in my mission, so I got to see everything.
Well, during these two years, one group of people that I developed a great deal of respect for were those belonging to Islam. I developed this respect, because of all the people that I met; of all the cultures that I got involved with, it was the culture of Islam that was the most friendly. Sure, there was your bad seed every once in a while, but overall, I was constantly shown respect and love to. I was invited more often into the homes of Muslims. I was invited to dinner or lunch more with Muslims. I was able to talk more openly with Muslims. All-in-all, it was the people of Islam that were very friendly. As a result, I learned so much about their culture and what made them tick. And the more I learned, the better I was able to build a foundation of trust with them. It was mutually beneficial for both of us.
So, you can imagine my heartbreak when I came back to Utah. Sure, there is culture here, but it's nothing like Toronto. Further, I was amazed at how many people here were prejudiced against Muslims. It blew me away. Especially after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, in New York City, New York. All of the sudden, it was as if every Muslim in the country was to be feared. Members of the Sikh religion were being falsely categorized as Muslims, because of their turbans. It was rather infuriating. I felt like I needed to be a missionary for the Muslim people. I needed to let these prejudiced, racist pigs that Islam is a God-fearing culture. They pray five times per day. The attend holy services at a mosque. They even read their holy book, the Qur'an, which has much of the same stories as the Holy Bible. For the first time in my life, I was on the defense for another culture and religion other than my own.
On a side-note, every wedding anniversary, my wife and I would celebrate a new culture. We started with Italian, then did Celtic, then Chinese, Jewish, Mexican, Japanese and others. This past Saturday was our eleventh wedding anniversary, and when we were planning it ahead of time, I mentioned that I wanted to do an Islamic celebration. So, when the anniversary came, we read from the Qur'an, ate dates, visited a mosque, ate Lebanese food (the best we could do in Utah) and purchased a topi and a couple hijabs, and henna tattoos. It was a wonderful evening.
So, come August 11th, or 12th, depending on when the first crescent moon is sighted, the holy month of Ramadan starts. The month is a month of fasting and sacrifice. Participants abstain from food and drink, as well as personal pleasures such as gambling or sexual intercourse from sunrise to sunset every day for the entire month. Because the month is starting in only a couple of days, the fasting will be about 14 hours in duration each day. Also during this time, Muslims are encouraged to read the entire Qur'an before the month's end, and attend recitations at the mosque every evening. The Khadeeja Islamic Center here in Salt Lake City will be doing the nightly recitations after the fifth prayer.
My participation for that month will be as follows:
- I'll be attending at least one of the recitations, if not two.
- I'll be wearing my topi every day, all day long.
- I'll be reading the Qur'an, both in private and in public, in its entirety before the month ends.
- I'll be fasting as they would fast from sunrise to sunset every day of the month
In addition to what's listed above, I'll also be incorporating some aspects of my religion into the daily routine. In the LDS Church, the first Sunday of each month is usually reserved for a fast. It is meant to start the night before, and end 24 hours later. For our monthly fast, we're encourage to open our hearts to God, and ask for His blessings or thank Him for what He has given us. In other words, our fast should accompany prayer. So each day, I'll start my fast with a prayer and end my fast with a prayer. Second, I'll be reading my scriptures as much as I can as well. The LDS Holy Scriptures include the Holy Bible, The Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price, and the Doctrine and Covenants. I won't be able to get through all four books, so I'll just be focusing on one. Not sure which at this moment.
Why am I doing this, if I'm a Christian? The biggest reason is to raise awareness of the culture that is Islam. There are a lot of misconceptions about Muslims and Islam in general, and I'm hoping to help people understand that Islam is not a religion of hate, but a religion of peace, love and integrity. These people are good people. The fear God, they follow the Prophets, they pray daily and frequently. They do good to others by helping in their community and they're respectful of others. My wearing my topi in public, and reading the Qur'an in public, hopefully, people will ask me questions, and I can educate them. I certainly won't be out preaching or knocking doors. I'll be on the passive side of things, hoping people notice, and have the courage to ask me questions.
The other reason for doing this, is I have bad habits and sins that I would like to remove from my life. I'm hoping that by making such a large sacrifice for a month, I will grow closer to God, and He will grant me the ability to make my weaknesses strengths and forgive me of my sins. So, I have deep, personal reasons for doing it.
It will be difficult, especially seeing as though school is starting up in two weeks, and I'll still have two more weeks after that to go. I plan on blogging updates about my experiences during Ramadan. Don't worry, I won't blog every day. Most likely, it will be a weekly summary of activities, conversations, studies, how I feel, and so on. So, likely there will only be four posts during the month.