Celebrating Ramadan in the Northland

A look inside the customs and traditions of the holiest month of Islam.

DULUTH, Minn.- The evening of May 5th marked the beginning of the holiest month of the year in Islam. The month when God, or Allah, revealed the first verses of the Quran to the prophet Muhammad.

The month of Ramadan.

“It’s a training a ground for us where we are deprived of food and drink and intimacy really,” said Nick Hassan, board member for the Islamic Center of the Twin Ports.

“The idea is if we can deprive ourselves of these basic needs, we should be able to withstand other challenges in life.”

This past month Muslims abstained from food and drink from sunrise to sunset, bringing them closer to God, and to themselves.

“We are able to focus on those things that really matter. We sometimes get overwhelmed with our wants rather than our needs,” Hassan said.

Children are encouraged to try fasting at first. Then when they reach puberty, it becomes more of an obligation.

“The first few days can be a little difficult and after that it gets easier,” said 15-year-old Muhammad Ali, who attends Duluth East High School.

“What you have to do is get up early and eat food so you can have the strength for the whole day,” he said, describing his Ramadan routine.

“Sometimes I miss the day, I sometimes oversleep my alarm and don’t get up.”

That meal before sunrise is called “Suhoor.” At sunset, Muslims gather to break the fast, called “Iftar.”

Now you may think that after a whole day of not eating, you want to gorge yourself with food, but that’s not the case.

“Typically we break the fast as the Prophet Muhammad, Peace be Upon Him, did with an odd number of dates, and a glass of water,” said FOX21’s Sam Ali, who attends the Islamic Center. “Something really simple to break the fast at the right time.”

At the Islamic Center of the Twin Ports, a potluck is held every month where they invite representatives of other faiths.

“I’ve actually come to the first iftar several years ago and I’ve just been coming ever since,” Bob Barnes, Chaplain at St. Mary’s Medical Center, said. “They’re a very welcoming community and I’ve been invited and I’ve come.”

Not only are the other faiths invited to come eat, they’re invited to observe prayer following Iftar.

“The Arabic as it’s typically sung is beautiful,” said Barnes.

“A lot of people who go and see the prayers always come back and say it’s always a peaceful time,” Hassan said.

Officials at the Mosque hope observing the prayer helps people better understand Islam.

“A lot of people don’t actually see Muslims in prayer, they see it on TV and they see it in kinda person, a distance away,” said Hassan. “But when they see something close, up close, it’s different.”

For many invited to Iftar, seeing traditions up close is important.

“A community is made up of people from lots of different faiths traditions and we have to work together if community is going to work,” Barnes said.

Meanwhile Muhammad is always ready to help his friends better understand his religion.

“I get a lot of questions from some people: ‘Isn’t it hard? Don’t you, won’t you pass out?’ No, not really, ’cause you’ve got the spitirual power. God will make it easier for you.”

That spiritual power drives Muslims at the Islamic Center to bridge the gap between their world and others.

“We should venture out because when you start learning from others, that’s when you grow,” said Hassan.

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