Syed Jamal: Islamic Center of Lawrence honors Ramadan traditions (Column)

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People of Islamic faith observe Ramadan as a month of fasting each year, not eating or drinking from dawn until dusk before breaking the fast with an evening meal called Iftar. The end of the month is celebrated with a family feast and get-together known as Eid-ul-Fitr.

This year’s Ramadan ended on Wednesday, May 12. Throughout the month, volunteers at the Islamic Center of Lawrence have been supporting the city’s Islamic population by preparing delicious daily meals for Iftar.

As a proud resident of Lawrence, I am honored to tell you about the spirit of giving that permeates these acts of kindness and makes our city one of its kind, all the more so during the month of Ramadan that just ended.

The ethnic and cultural diversity of Islamic populations – there are more than 1 billion Muslims worldwide – has produced a vast collection of cuisines over the centuries, the mastery of which can boggle the minds of even the most accomplished gastronomists. These skills and memorable food preparations have been on full display in the Islamic Center’s efforts over the past month. These foods have come from cuisines in the Middle East, Africa, the Indian subcontinent and Bosnia. 

This year’s Iftar meals included Basbousa sweet cakes, Libyan vegetable soup and chicken barbecue. The basic recipe for Basbousa is simple: a semolina batter is cooked in a pan, syrup is added, coconut/yogurt toppings are layered on the cake, and nuts are sprinkled on the top. A typical Libyan soup starts with sautéed onions to which pieces of meat, spices, and salt are added and cooked for 5-10 minutes before adding herbs such as cilantro and parsley. Chicken barbecue is made in the American way.

This unique tradition of cooking the evening meal, maintained over 30 years, helps create a sense of community and reflects the hospitable and caring nature of the people in Lawrence. These meals also are shared with neighbors and with the city shelters. 

Because of the pandemic, this year’s food offerings were limited. About 150 complimentary boxed Iftar dinners each day were prepared to be picked up and delivered for those breaking the fast each evening. Because of the pandemic, food preparations were different than in previous years, but most people that came got an Iftar box. 

This week’s Eid celebration in Lawrence missed another tradition that locals have enjoyed: a sumptuous breakfast including bread with hummus, egg omelettes topped with cheese and olives, and baklavas and fruits. This year, because of the pandemic, breakfast was not offered after socially distanced prayers. However, soccer games and rides for children are being arranged next weekend that should bring out many families. 

These acts of kindness, as in any religious or secular tradition, help altruistic traits expand among populations. As with many other faith traditions, Islamic culture emphasizes charity and giving, especially during Ramadan. These traditions of fasting, giving, and caring confer numerous benefits on physical and mental health, and enhance a sense of community among people. 

This year’s celebrations of Eid-ul-Fitr have been muted, as the lingering pandemic and the bombardment of Gaza have dampened the spirit of Ramadan. But drawing upon its rich tradition of volunteerism and civic engagement, the Islamic community of Lawrence stands ready to work with its neighbors to make positive contributions to the development of Lawrence and to world peace. 

About the writer
About the writer

Syed Jamal lives with his wife, three children and their cat, Opal, in Lawrence. He experimented with journalism as a teenager before coming to Lawrence from Dhaka, Bangladesh. He studied philosophy and biology at Rockhurst University before earning graduate degrees in pharmacology and molecular/applied biosciences from the University of Missouri. He teaches at the University of Saint Mary and is researching phytoremediation for Ascend Biotechnology of Santa Clara, California, and pathobiology with teaching hospitals in Kansas and Arkansas. 

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