Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Wednesday, August 11, marks the first day of Ramadan. We discuss the significance of Ramadan to the Muslim faith and find out how American Muslims observe the holy month. We'll also learn about plans for a new Islamic Center in Temecula and hear how the Muslim community there is dealing with protests from some community members.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. Observance of the holy month of Ramadan begins today for Muslims around the world. It is a time of fasting, prayer and giving. And Ramadan presents an opportunity for non-Muslims to learn more about the culture and traditions of Islam. That kind of cross-cultural education may be very important in our region right now. The recent controversy and demonstration over the building of an Islamic center in Temecula has raised tensions and strained relations. Joining us now to talk about the start of Islam’s holy month is my guest. Imam Taha Hassane – Hassane, I’m sorry, Taha Hassane, Imam and director of the Islamic Center of San Diego. Imam Hassane, thank you for being here.
IMAM TAHA HASSANE (Imam/Director, Islamic Center of San Diego): I’m my pleasure. Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: What’s the significance of Ramadan to the Muslim faith?
IMAM HASSANE: First of all, I would like to congratulate all Muslims in San Diego County and the whole nation for the beginning of the month of Ramadan and I would like to tell them Ramadam Mubarak, which means blessed Ramadan. Ramadan is a very important spiritual season for Muslims all over the world. Ramadan is the 9th month of the lunar calendar. As you know, we Muslims, we go in our celebrations by the lunar calendar, so in this month our – the month of Ramadan is all about increasing in worshiping God, doing more acts of worship, and uplifting our spirit to a higher level.
CAVANAUGH: And how is it observed? We hear about fasting.
IMAM HASSANE: Umm-hmm.
CAVANAUGH: We hear about giving. Tell us a little bit more about that.
IMAM HASSANE: Yes. We do have a lot of acts of worship that we should observe in Ramadan. The main one is fasting. What I mean by fasting is for Muslims who are adult and healthy, only those who are adult and healthy, should refrain from eating, drinking and having any conjugal relationship with their spouses from dawn to sunset. I have heard a lot of people say from sunrise. No. It’s from dawn, before sunrise, until sunset. At sunset, we have to break the fast and then after breaking the fast, we have, every evening, extra prayers to offer whether at the Islamic Center or our homes. This is what makes Ramadan unique. Also, in the month of Ramadan, Muslims are highly recommended and urged to share any kind of blessing that almighty God has given them, mainly their wealth. So Muslims donate a lot of money to the poor, to the needy, to the widows, to any social projects within their community and society.
CAVANAUGH: How difficult is it for Muslims in this country to observe Ramadan’s restrictions? I’m thinking, you know, at work, if an adult, child, you know, if an older teenager is going to school or so forth, what kinds of problems do you hear from people saying, you know, this is just really tremendously difficult…
IMAM HASSANE: Yeah.
CAVANAUGH: …working and trying to keep up your daily life.
IMAM HASSANE: First of all, we really enjoy fasting, you know, but in this society, the Western society, it’s a little bit challenging. It’s a little bit challenging because we cannot adjust, for example, the time off work or adjust the time off schools like it’s done in the Muslim world, for example. But it’s really an enjoyable time for even our teenagers and our youth who fast and go to school and colleges and universities. They like the fact that they are challenged during the month of Ramadan because they want to feel that they are doing something extra just to please Almighty God by doing this.
CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Imam Taha Hassane, Imam and director of the Islamic Center of San Diego. And we’re talking about the start of the holy month of Ramadan. And you just mentioned how Ramadan is observed in Muslim countries, are, indeed, are things changed around, work times and so forth, in order to accommodate better the restrictions and the observance of Ramadan?
IMAM HASSANE: Yes. I’m aware that in many Muslim countries, the governments try to adjust in order to accommodate Muslim workers and students, for example, to allow them, for example, in the evening go early to their homes in order to have time, enough time, to break the fast within a family environment. So this is, you know, the type of adjustments that you might hear in the Muslim world during the month of Ramadan.
CAVANAUGH: It reminds me, I once saw a documentary about life in Cairo, in Egypt…
IMAM HASSANE: Umm-hmm.
CAVANAUGH: …and it was during the month of Ramadan and they showed a breaking fast meal…
IMAM HASSANE: Umm-hmm.
CAVANAUGH: …and it was a wonderful meal. It was – the whole family was there and it was a great celebration. Does that take place here as well?
IMAM HASSANE: Yes, we do have a daily breakfast, breaking the fast, at the Islamic Center of San Diego as well as I’m aware of several other mosques in San Diego County. We do have at the Islamic Center of San Diego a full meal offered and served to the community members every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. And, by the way, we do have some non-Muslims, neighbors and colleagues of some Muslims who come and just, you know, share with them the food after sunset. Yeah, we do offer such thing as a community level.
CAVANAUGH: When – how is it determined when Ramadan begins and when it ends?
IMAM HASSANE: There are two means. The first one is the moon sighting with the naked eye, and the other one is by astronomical (sic) calculations. So – But this year, the majority, I would say – excuse me. Excuse me.
CAVANAUGH: That’s quite all right.
IMAM HASSANE: Yeah, the majority of the Muslim world started Ramadan today, Wednesday.
CAVANAUGH: Gotcha. Now let me ask, I know that we speak so much when we talk about the holy month of Ramadan, we talk about fasting and that sort of takes center stage. But there are other requirements. There are other ways to observe Ramadan, and you mentioned giving. Now I know in other cultures, in other faith traditions, people tithe or give 10% of what they earn. Is that, in a way, what you’re talking about during Ramadan?
IMAM HASSANE: Muslims, during Ramadan, are really highly urged to donate as much as possible and share their blessings with others. We do have general donations. As a matter of fact, at the Islamic Center of San Diego, we do have several fundraisers that we do. One of them is for the center and others for other humanitarian projects and so on. Also, at the end of Ramadan, Muslims are obliged to give a certain amount of money at the end of Ramadan to the needy people because, as you know, we have a celebration at the end of Ramadan that we call Eid al-Fitr or the Feast of Breaking the Fast. And the purpose of this donation to the needy people at the end of Ramadan is to allow every single one in the Muslim community to be happy and, you know, to observe this feast, to buy new clothes and all that stuff, yeah.
CAVANAUGH: We have on the line a caller, Imam Yaya – Yaha – Oh, I’m not going to get it, from San Diego. Good morning and welcome to These Days.
IMAM YAHA (Caller, San Diego): Good morning. As-Salamu 'Alaykum, Brother Imam, how you doing?
CAVANAUGH: Just great.
IMAM HASSANE: Wa Alayka as-salām. I’m doing good. Thank you, Imam.
CAVANAUGH: Yes, you…
IMAM YAHA: Imam Taha, a very, very good – good leader in the Muslim community and I’m delighted, good to talk to you, my brother. I just wanted to make one observation and that is that regarding, you know, the difficulty that many Muslims face here in the west in observance of the fast, and not only of the fast but for the Friday prayers, what we call the jumu'ah services. Many of the employers have graciously accommodated the Muslims, you know, to be able to have time to adjust their work schedules to go to their Friday prayers and which Muslims are very, very thankful and grateful for that.
CAVANAUGH: You’re welcome.
IMAM YAHA: And there’s been a lot of interfaith work with Muslim, Christians and Jews have come together and to learn more about each other. So this is very good and we hope that the good work continues to spread.
CAVANAUGH: Imam, thank you for the call. I appreciate it. You know, speaking about that, speaking about different cultures and different faith traditions learning about each other, I’d like to talk for just a moment about what’s been going on or what did go on in Temecula and elsewhere in the United States. Some groups are protesting the building of new Islamic centers and mosques. Tell us why the Muslim community in Temecula wants to build this new worship center.
IMAM HASSANE: Because they need one. They don’t have one. Because I’m very familiar with the Muslim community in Temecula Valley. I’ve been there many times, you know, giving lectures and so on. They are renting a space in a warehouse and they need to have their own house of worship, their own mosque. And let me explain what’s a mosque. A mosque is a house of worship for Muslims. It’s like a church for Christians or synagogue for Jewish people. So they purchased the land a few years ago and they’re working on their paperwork with the City of Temecula in order to get the permit to start, you know, building their own mosque. So this is what’s going on over there, and it seems that those on—I insist on this—few but vocal people who are opposing the project over there, unfortunately, they have failed to learn about Islam and to know what Islam is all about. They have failed to get connected to their Muslim neighbors who live right there next to, you know, their neighborhood or in their neighborhood. So I’m – It’s very unfortunate to see such actions preventing Muslims who are part of the society to build and to have their own house of worship like everybody else.
CAVANAUGH: Imam, I’m wondering, based on what our caller says, what kind of support does the Islamic community here in San Diego have with other church leaders?
IMAM HASSANE: We do have now a very strong and very well organized interfaith, you know, work. I’m member of a civil interfaith organizations like Interfaith Community for Worker Justice of San Diego County and Interfaith Worker Justice nationwide, the National Council in Chicago, and Faith Leaders for Peace. And I work with a lot of – and what’s being done now is that the Islamic Center and Muslim community in San Diego is trying to get connected to other faith-based organizations and faith communities because this is what makes our community unique. This is how to celebrate the diversity. This is how to get connected to one another not only for non-Muslims to learn about Islam and Muslims but also for Muslims to learn about others. We are all together living in this society. Whatever makes me happy will make everybody happy. Whatever makes me sad will make everybody – so we are all together in the same boat, you know, and navigating somewhere in the ocean and we have no other option but working together.
CAVANAUGH: Why do you think we’ve been hearing about these protests now across America. Of course, there’s one in Manhattan, there’s one in Murfreesboro, I think, in Pennsylvania, Tennessee, there’s one here. Why are these things erupting now, do you think?
IMAM HASSANE: I believe, to my understanding, that it’s a nationwide campaign and these people, they have their own agenda. And, unfortunately, I don’t know, you know, why exactly at this time but I think these people, they have failed to understand that Muslims are like anybody else and, by the way, here I take this opportunity to thank the city council of New York and Mayor Bloomberg. He, after approving the project in Manhattan and the very positive statement released by Mayor Bloomberg, who said that why didn’t with Muslims and treating them different than anybody else, they are citizens here and they have the right to have their own house of worship. So I think that these people are victims, those who are opposing are victims of the campaign of fear and Islamophobia in our nation, unfortunately.
CAVANAUGH: Tell us where – We’ve just got about 30 seconds. Tell us what it’s going to be like at the – at your Islamic center tonight.
IMAM HASSANE: Tonight, we will have a lot of people coming. It will be packed as usual, men and women and children, families and individuals, coming to break the fast together. After breaking the fast, coming together to pray for almost two hours or one hour and a half, asking God for to bless all of us, to bless our nation and our society, and very nice spiritual environment at the Islamic Center of San Diego. And, by the way, I would like to invite whoever from our fellow citizens who would like to come and to experience the environment, the spiritual environment over there. You are more than welcome.
CAVANAUGH: Iman (sic) Hassane, thank you so much, and I hope I get this right. Ramadan Karim.
IMAM HASSANE: Thank you so much. You did it very well.
CAVANAUGH: And thank you for being here. Anyone who wants to comment can go online, KPBS.org/thesedays. Stay with us for hour two coming up in just a few minutes. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.