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Snitz explains how to prepare for Ramadan

Muslim organizations emphasize interfaith connection, community and healing during Ramadan

Ramadan begins Sunday night. Chicago organizations have planned interfaith gatherings during the month to foster community and cross-cultural understanding.

By Audrey Hettleman, Suntimes

Mar 8, 2024

Alia Bilal hopes the Islamic holy month of Ramadan helps different faiths find common ground and connect over shared traditions.

"We've very intentionally tried to forge those connections where communities are otherwise often pitted against each other," said Bilal, chief executive director of Inner-City Muslim Action Network.

Ramadan, which begins Sunday evening in the United States, comes as Christians prepare for Easter, Jews for Passover and Hindus for Holi later this spring.

During Ramadan, many fast from sunrise to sunset and spend more time praying. Chicago organizations are emphasizing interfaith connection and providing space for community and healing during a particularly tense time for Muslim communities around the globe.

The Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, a federation of 73 organizations, will host two iftars, meals that break the daily fast, with Christian parishes. Mahnoor Syed, the council's communications lead, said her organization has found it crucial in recent months to find common ground and discuss shared goals for social justice across cultural boundaries.

“Islam preaches not only helping your brothers and sisters within the religion but also everyone that's in need,” Syed said. “With our interfaith initiatives, a lot of the topics that we want to discuss are upholding the sanctity of human life throughout the world.”

Alia Bilal, chief executive director of Inner-City Muslim Action Network

On April 3, the final Wednesday of Ramadan, the network will host a community iftar. Bilal expects the event to attract at least 500 people of all backgrounds this year, including members of nearby churches and synagogues.

“It's not just the Muslim community that's gathering, it's everyone from the neighborhood,” Bilal said. “It's just always been a really intentional space, but also a very organic space for a community to really feel like they're a part of the month — and a part of another community — while they're gathered with us.”

Local student organizations such as DePaul University’s United Muslims Moving Ahead are encouraging people of all faiths to participate in Ramadan festivities. On March 11, UMMA will host a "fast-a-thon," where nonMuslim students are invited to participate in that day's fast and iftar.

UMMA co-president Raneem Qassem said she hopes events UMMA hosts can provide a space for Muslim students and others affected by the Israel-Hamas war to process and heal.

“A lot of our actions, a lot of our thoughts, are with the people of Gaza, with the people of Palestine right now. As a community, it affects us all a lot more than we even think it does," Qassem said. "It's just something that is always in the back of our minds, even if it's supposed to be a time where it's more festive."

In Gaza, over 30,000 Palestinians — many of them Muslim — have been killed since the start of the Israel-Hamas war. In the United States, religiously motivated hate crimes have increased since the start of the war.

Bilal said this Ramadan reminds her of 2020. That year, COVID-19 restricted gatherings and changed the feel of the holy month, forcing Muslims to focus inward, she said. This year, she said, Muslims can use that “spiritual grounding” to help them deal with feelings surrounding the Israel-Hamas war and its fallout in a welcome, understanding community.

“We have so many individuals and families in our network, in our base, that are directly impacted by this ... so the pain is very, very close to home,” Bilal said. "I see this as an opportunity to … connect around the things that unite us as opposed to the things that divide us. ... We certainly recognize it is a huge part of how we get through a moment like this together.”

Some interfaith events during Ramadan

Beloved Community Ceramics Studio: Open studio, noon to 6 p.m. Wednesdays, Inner-City Muslim Action Network, 2744 W. 63rd St.

Ramadan Reflections, 5:30 p.m. Wednesdays, 2744 W. 63rd St.

Catholic interfaith iftar, sunset, Wednesday, Islamic Foundation North in Libertyville

Methodist interfaith iftar, sunset, March 20, Mecca Center in Willowbrook

Interfaith iftar hosted by Bushra Amiwala, 5-8 p.m., March 28, Holiday Inn & Suites Chicago North Shore (Skokie)

IMAN Community Iftar, 5:30 to 8:30 p.m., April 3, 2744 W. 63rd St.

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