Syed Jamal: Lawrence’s Islamic community gives back during Ramadan (Column)

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The global Muslim community observes the holy month of Ramadan by abstaining from all food and drinks from dawn to dusk.

Every Ramadan, this city witnesses an outpouring of charitable acts, compassion for others, and outreach to the community from the Muslims of Lawrence. 

This unique, rejuvenating tradition helps create a sense of community and reflects the hospitable and caring nature of the people in Lawrence. The Islamic Center of Lawrence has offered many of the city’s diverse residents and travelers a complimentary Iftar dinner every year since 2003, according to longtime Lawrence denizens, to break the fast.

As a proud resident of Lawrence, I am honored to take this opportunity to inform you about the spirit of giving that permeates the culture here during Ramadan, making our city one of a kind. 

Although the purists would argue that the main focus of fasting is behavior control since religious texts stress the need to refrain from arguments and criticisms — any kind of behavior that can trigger people — while fasting, the rationalists put forth a variety of physiological, psychological and social benefits that accrue for those who fast. Most of us in the middle get too hungry not to focus on the gustatory pleasures of Iftar.

The meal that is eaten while breaking the fast is called Iftar. The ethnic and cultural diversity of Islamic populations has produced an astonishing array of cuisines over centuries, the mastery of which can be mind-boggling for even the most accomplished cooks and gastronomists.  I remember my maternal grandmother directing an Iftar preparation that had about a hundred items, even during times not as prosperous as they used to be around her well-to-do lawyer father in British India.  

Volunteers from the Lawrence Islamic Center have been preparing mouth-watering meals every year during the whole of Ramadan so that anyone coming to the Islamic Center can break their fast. The food that I remember has come from the Middle East; East, West, and North Africa; the Indian subcontinent; and Bosnia. These meals are also shared with neighbors and with the city shelters. 

Syed Jamal/Contributed Photo Syed Jamal, facing toward the camera, prepares food with Dr. Mohamed Fajri (in the back), Naheen Jamal, and Taseen Jamal at the Islamic Center of Lawrence.

This year’s Iftar dinners are being arranged for pickup only. About 150 boxes have been prepared daily to be picked up by people who sign up.  

The individual acts of self-restraint and kindness, be they in any religious or secular tradition, have helped shape the collective conscience of Muslims. Just like many other faith traditions, Islamic culture emphasizes charity and giving, especially during Ramadan. As a whole, these traditions of fasting, giving, and caring confer numerous benefits on physical and mental health, and enhance a sense of community among people.

Come early May, Lawrence is set to observe Eid-ul-Fitr, the three-day celebrations of family feasts and get-togethers with neighbors and friends.

Using its rich tradition of volunteerism from a diverse group of people, outreach, and civic engagement, the Islamic community of Lawrence keeps contributing to the development of this city and making the world a better place. 

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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