This week will mark the beginning of Ramadan, a month during which Muslims around the world focus their thoughts and actions on their service to God.
Ramadan is in one sense intensely personal. It requires the individual to become mindful, intentional in one’s daily actions, and aware that these actions are all in service to and at the will of God. Piety, sincerity, mindfulness, love and mercy are all traits that the Muslim will strive to strengthen.
At the same time, Ramadan is also communal. As every Muslim seeks to become mindful of individual actions, thoughts and beliefs, this common effort creates a powerful shared community. We see this through the common act of fasting from dawn to sunset during the month. This shared human effort creates an invitation to all to join in celebration of life.
The communal aspects of this year’s Ramadan will be challenged. Many of my Muslim friends have been unable to attend their daily prayers at the mosque, unable to kneel shoulder to shoulder and feel the comfort of their common faith. Communal prayer is, I am sure, a great comfort in contrast with the daily struggles of life or when one feels the subversive threats of Islamophobia.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey has understood this moment. He has recognized the great importance of communal faith among our numerous faith traditions. Acting upon the request from CAIR-MN, Mayor Frey has drafted an executive order allowing the Dar Al Hijrah Mosque in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood to provide public calls to prayer (Adhan) during the month of Ramadan.
This neighborhood is home to thousands of Muslims, many of whom are refugees and have not heard that public call since their youth. This call will certainly bring back powerful feelings and great comfort.
The call to prayer sadly will not call this community to their mosque for communal prayer, because the mosques have been closed to protect the health of all from COVID-19 infections. Still, the call will create a greater sense that we too belong, we too can have our voice in the public square.
I believe that this is a moment when we are called to our democratic principles. I encourage all of us to not be distracted by fearmongering or hate speech. The call to prayer is no more a sign of a religion taking over than those beautiful church bells I have heard for years.
Our nation is strong enough to value and include our diversity. Our people are strong enough to ensure that all can live with dignity. Accepting that this is a year that challenges our sense of community, I hope that in the end, this time results a greater and more inclusive nation.
CAIR-MN, Mayor Frey and the Dar Al-Hijrah Mosque have given us all some direction toward that outcome.
Michael Van Keulen, of St. Paul, is executive director of Open Path Resource.