Minnesota Army National Guard leaders are packing an unexpected item when they head to their annual training camp next month — a lawn sign displaying the words “To Our Muslim Neighbors: Blessed Ramadan.”
The blue signs, part of a campaign launched by Minnesota Council of Churches three years ago, also will be showing up at several thousand churches, individual homes and educational centers across the nation to mark the expected first day of Ramadan May 15.
The campaign’s popularity, including media coverage from as far away as Indonesia, has caught the council by surprise. So did the request by the Minnesota Army National Guard last year for some signs to display at their headquarters — the first such request from an armed service group.
“It’s an opportunity to demonstrate that we support our soldiers, of all religious traditions,” said National Guard Chaplain Philip (Buddy) Winn, who will post a sign at Camp Atterbury in Indiana for the annual training event next month.
“We’re extending good will — from our tradition to yours,” he said.
National Guard Sgt. Alkali Yaffa, one of about 50 Muslims in the Minnesota Guard, called the signs “wonderful.”
“Those signs mean that people are celebrating with us,” Yaffa said. “They may not be fasting, but they are remembering.”
The Minnesota Council of Churches launched the Blessed Ramadan campaign in 2016 not knowing what to expect. But the presidential campaign had sparked anti-Muslim sentiment, and this was a visible way for the public to show their support, said the Rev. Jerad Morey, a council programs director.
The first year, more than 2,200 signs were distributed, mainly in Minnesota but also from coast to coast, said Morey. That’s in addition to signs that could be downloaded for free off the council’s website, a number not tracked.
The humble yard sign soon was showing up on social media and featured in other media ranging from the Voice of America to the Huffington Post to Minnesota news outlets.
About a dozen state councils of churches — organizations that typically represent mainline Protestant churches in each state — ordered them, Morey said. This year, the Councils of Churches in Wisconsin, New York and Oklahoma are new on board.
Ramadan is the holiest month of the year for Muslims, a time of dawn-to-dusk fasting and frequent prayer. It is based on the lunar calendar, and this year is expected to start May 15 and end June 14.
Most Minnesotans don’t know a lot about Ramadan, and the signs often open the door to questions, said Winn and Yaffa.
“It spurs conversation,” said Winn. “What is Ramadan? Is that when they fast?”
“It’s another way to increase understanding among people,” added Yaffa. “It’s an opportunity for anyone who isn’t Muslim to learn what this means.”
Mayflower United Church of Christ is among the Twin Cities churches that embraced the Blessed Ramadan campaign from the start. It distributed 50 signs the first year and nearly 50 last year, said Belle Scott, who coordinates the campaign.
This month, there’s a table in the church hallway on Sundays offering sign-up sheets for the next batch of signs, said Scott. The Minneapolis church also displays the Blessed Ramadan greetings in front of its building, which often attracts attention from cars whizzing by.
“People drive by the church and honk,” said Scott. “Some have even called the church and thanked us.”
In the weeks ahead, the Blessed Ramadan signs will be showing up across Minnesota and sprinkled across the nation. Although they haven’t been able to end anti-Muslim sentiments, they are a growing public testimony to Muslims’ many supporters.
“There will be bright spots across this country, ” said Morey. “They tell our Muslim neighbors we don’t fear you. We welcome you.”