The Power of Community

 Sherry mackay and Dr. nielsen with Dr. Yolanda moses of UCR

Sherry mackay and Dr. nielsen with Dr. Yolanda moses of UCR

The Power of Community: Celebrating the Festival of Ramadan and Eid
 
There was no Call to Prayer, but for the first time I felt the spirit of Ramadan here in Riverside.
 
Holidays reflect a culture and tell us a lot about those who celebrate it. Eid al-Fitr, is an important religious holiday celebrated by Muslims worldwide to mark the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting. This year I got the opportunity to witness and, to a certain degree, experience the importance it holds for Muslims. Along with many other non-Muslim community members, I shared in the celebration because we were invited to do so.
 
I teach ESL classes twice a week to a group of Afghan women. During the first week of Ramadan they came to class, but they were dragging. The looked tired because they were fasting. They needed to stay up late the night before to eat after sunset and woke up at around 3 in the morning to eat before sunrise. One woman slept through her alarm and hadn’t eaten since the night before.
 
During the second week, I could see that it was difficult to concentrate, but they seemed to be fairing better. To say the least, I was impressed with their dedication and determination to continue the fasting.
 
By the third week, I can only describe their state as Zen. They had found their groove and were very proud of their fasting. There was a newfound camaraderie amongst these women in doing this together. I also learned that this is a time of forgiveness and charity. The women were excited to buy new clothes and to celebrate Eid. They were also going to ensure that all their Muslim brothers and sisters would have food and money to buy new clothes.
 
I was invited to two Iftars: the meal eaten by Muslims after sunset during Ramadan.  The Islamic Center of Riverside hosted the first one, which was held on the rooftop of City Hall. Many officials and representatives from both the Muslim and larger community shared insights and experiences. A calm and embracing energy left me feeling recharged and connected to our Riverside community.
 
The second Iftar was hosted by the Sahaba Initiative--a nonprofit that aims to develop healthy families through social services and community efforts, which include mental health, mentorship and direct services. The event brought together volunteers, nonprofit organizations, civic leaders, clergy, community leaders and businesses, and recognized outstanding service in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. Once again, I was reminded of how open and welcoming the Muslim community in Riverside is to the larger community.
 
Many civic leaders, such as Mayor Rusty Bailey of Riverside, Mayor Carey Davis of San Bernardino and Congressman Mark Takano shared their well wishes and their commitment to support our Muslim community members.
Professor Dr. Yolanda Moses of UCR gave a speech about solidarity and embracing diversity and conflict. 
 
Congressman Takano, the son of two Japanese immigrants identified with the feeling of being isolated and shunned upon because of one’s ethnicity.  Two non-Muslims shared how they have fasted for years in solidarity of their Muslim friends.
 
Another community member shared how his friend told him that we’re always looking for a stigma to attach to. For example, in the past the AIDs epidemic made so many fearful of the LGBT community. Now, Terrorism makes so many fearful of all Muslims. We were reminded that the horrific acts of violence we have witnessed around the world, in the name of religion, in no way reflects Islam.
 
Recently, as I’ve driven around Riverside, I’ve seen signs on churches and a synagogue that wished Muslims a happy Ramadan season. This community has embraced interfaith connection. I feel great hope for our country because of what I’ve witnessed locally. When people (of any faith) connect and really get to know one another anything is possible.