Understanding of Islam Grows in Tri-Cities Non-Muslims Eager to Learn about Ramadan

By Meltzer, Erica | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), December 24, 1999 | Go to article overview

Understanding of Islam Grows in Tri-Cities Non-Muslims Eager to Learn about Ramadan


Meltzer, Erica, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Erica Meltzer Daily Herald Staff Writer

Khalid Mahmood found a sea of white faces and streets lined with churches when he moved his family to Batavia from an ethnically and religiously mixed neighborhood in Pittsburgh two years ago.

He also found a small but vibrant Muslim community that had been gathering for Friday prayer services for more than 20 years. Since the mid-1980s those services have been held at Calvary Episcopal Church in Batavia.

The dual-religion arrangement represents the experiences Muslims in the Tri-Cities have discovered. Fox Valley Muslims say that while people here know little about Islam, they are interested in learning more.

And as the Muslim month of Ramadan passes over the Christmas season for the second year in a row, a window has opened to educate non-Muslims about Islam and its holiest month.

Muslims believe during Ramadan, on the Night of Power, the Qur'an was revealed for the first time to the prophet Mohammed through the angel Gabriel. The revelation also occurred during Ramadan.

Muslims follow a lunar calendar that is 11 days shorter than the solar year. As a result, the dates of Ramadan shift from year to year. Ramadan, the ninth lunar month, began Dec. 9 this year with the sighting of the new moon and will end Jan. 6 or 7, depending on when the moon is seen.

To show their devotion to God and their willingness to sacrifice for him, Muslims forgo food, liquids and sex during Ramadan daylight hours.

They make an effort to be better people. A person with a bad temper will try to keep it under control. Someone who gossips will try to bite his tongue.

And they are more conscious of their religious and social obligations. Muslims read Qur'an more and pray more than during other times of the year.

"When Ramadan starts, no matter what happens, I pray all my daily prayers," Mahmood said.

Without faith, though, all the self-sacrifice means little.

"In the Qur'an it says that some people do not get anything out of fasting except for hunger and thirst, because that's all there is to it if your heart is not in it," said Mazher Ahmed, a Batavia resident of more than 20 years.

Long before interfaith became a buzzword, Hamid and Mazher Ahmed were building bridges with their neighbors even as they built Islamic institutions.

The couple arrived in Batavia in 1972 after a brief stay in North Aurora. At that time, the only place to attend Friday services was the Muslim Community Center in Chicago.

A smattering of Muslim families lived in Aurora and Elgin at the time, but they hadn't organized services. In 1975 Hamid started leading prayers in a church bought by the Elgin Muslim community. Today there are two mosques in Elgin that serve almost 300 people.

In 1977, the Ahmeds started having services and children's classes in their Batavia home.

"Her duty was just to take all the furniture out onto the front porch every Friday," Hamid said of his wife. Within a few years, people overflowed into the kitchen and the television room.

As the Ahmeds built a community, they also reached out to their neighbors. They introduced themselves to people who had never met Muslims before. Mazher began speaking to congregations about Islam. They found everyone to be friendly, but they never expected the steps one neighbor would go to when the Ahmeds returned to India to visit family.

Marcia Parsons offered to come over every Friday to set up the house for prayers in the Ahmeds' absence.

"It was the dead of winter," Hamid said. "For six weeks, she cleaned all the driveways, sidewalks and then she'd come inside and do everything."

Years later, the Ahmeds are still touched by her gesture.

"It shows that it's not only Islam that has good people," Mazher said.

As the population expanded, services moved out of the Ahmeds' home, eventually landing at Calvary Episcopal. …

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