Ibrahim Saoud considers himself a man of faith who is trying to live a life that leaves the world a better place.
“That’s what it’s all about, trying to do what you can to make things better for somebody else, especially people who are in need,” said Saoud, 31. “That’s something we should be doing all the time, helping out where we can.”
Saoud, like more than a billion Muslims around the world, has been pushing himself to do better and be better during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. As they prepare to celebrate the Eid al-Fitr (the end of the month) this week, they are facing a new challenge — how to keep the spirit of Ramadan alive throughout the year.
During Ramadan, the holiest month in the Islamic calendar, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, typically having a light meal before dawn and coming together at sunset to break the fast. The days are punctuated by prayers, and the Islamic holy book — the Quran — is read at least once in its entirety before the month ends.
Ramadan is a time of worship, contemplation and increased charity. It is also a time to strengthen family and community ties. It marks the time when the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.
At the Akron Masjid, the mosque where Saoud attends prayer services, leadership has been working to identify opportunities that help keep members on the right spiritual path beyond Ramadan by meeting needs in their Old South Main Street neighborhood. Some of those activities include an organic community garden, maintaining a flower garden via the Keep Akron Beautiful initiative, offering community dinners and volunteering at the Catholic Worker-Peter Maurin Center.
“Both of our faiths command us to take care of the needy and our hope is that we will continue the relationship that started a year ago when [Saoud] stopped by to see if there was something his community could do to help,” said Joe May, who was instrumental in establishing the drop-in center that provides hot meals on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays and a Matthew 8:20 ministry to provide food to the homeless under the All-America Bridge on Saturdays.
Abdulkareem Melaiye, president at the masjid, said his faith community made a conscious decision last Ramadan to keep the positive impact of the holy month alive throughout the year. The community’s newly constructed prayer hall has provided more room to do more.
“During Ramadan, people have a high level of spirituality. The expansion of the masjid has given us space to accommodate more people for prayer and fellowship,” Melaiye said. “We have been at full capacity during the breaking of the fast. We are trying to encourage people to continue a life of devotion and charity throughout the year.”
The Ramadan fast (sawm) is one of the five pillars of Islam. The other tenets are shahadah (faith in God); salat (five daily prayers); zakat (charitable giving) and hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca).
A recent Pew Research Center survey shows that fasting during Ramadan is the second most observed of the five pillars. The most observed is faith in God (Allah) and that the Prophet Mohammed is his messenger.
“Most people who are not Muslim tend to focus only on the fasting,” Saoud said. “They know that during Ramadan, we don’t eat or drink anything during daylight hours. But what they sometimes don’t know is the fasting is a way to push us to a new level of self-discipline and to help us renew our commitment to God.”
For more information about the Akron Masjid, go to www.akronmasjid.com or call 330-374-9799.
The Akron Masjid and the one in Kent are part of the larger Islamic Society of Akron and Kent (ISAK), which operates the largest Islamic facility in the area: the Islamic Community Center in Cuyahoga Falls. The smaller mosques exist, in part, as convenient locations for Muslims who live in those areas to attend prayer services.
There are also mosques in Canton and North Canton and Muslim Student Associations at local universities, including the University of Akron and Kent State University.
On Thursday, Muslims from the entire community are expected to gather at the center in Cuyahoga Falls to celebrate the end of Ramadan.
Islam, one of the fastest-growing religions in the world, is projected to include 2.2 billion followers by 2030, according to the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life, which estimates the world’s current Muslim population at more than 1.6 billion.
Of the nearly 8 million Muslims who are estimated to live in the United States, more than 10,000 are in the Akron-Canton area.