Ramadan Rallies NYC Muslims

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The philosophy that Imam Bilal uses to reinforce the courage of the inmates is that ‘the world is a prison for the believers’. “I utilize this ideology so that the brothers are not focused so much on the physical prison that they are in but rather focus on their spirituality to free them of their mental prison,� the Imam says.

(Imam Bilal and his wife).

Ramadan the ninth month in the Muslim calendar, is the time when Muslims fast for 30 days and abstain from food, drink and sexual activity with their spouses from sun up to sun down. 

The purpose of Ramadan is for Muslims to reflect on their good deeds and utilize the time that they would spend eating and doing leisure activities to reflect on God and his teachings. Muslims are taught to read one thirtieth of the Quran everyday during the 30 days of the month preferably before the fast is broken in the evening time.

The procedure to start the days fasting begins in the morning, when Muslims wake up in the morning and eat their breakfast before dawn otherwise known as suhur. The breakfast is to be taken at least 15 to 30 minutes before the Morning Prayer starts at dawn. The times are determined by sunrise and sunset. This was the method that the Prophet Muhammad the founder of the Islamic religion used to determine a full day before clocks were invented.

In New York, there are approximately 300 Masjids all from various ethnicities and backgrounds. Both brothers and sisters gather together at their local Masjid to break the fast and socialize. Ramadan is the time wherein most members of the community joyfully reunite with people that they may not ordinarily see throughout the year.

Imams, Assistant Imams and wives of the Imams, and general members of the masjid, all take a great responsibility in preparing their community for the upcoming month of Ramadan. Whether it is by preparing the food, compiling a list of the people who will participate in preparing the Iftar dinners, or leading the community in Taraweeah  prayers, everyone’s contribution helps towards their Masjids month of Ramadan go smoothly.

Imam Siraj Wahaj a renowned Imam both in New York and throughout the United States starts the preparation of his congregation before the month of Ramadan, during the month of Shaban. “I prepare my congregation by trying to remind them of the Hadith of the Prophet and what was the process he used to prepare for the month of Ramadan,� he says.

Imam Siraj narrated a Hadith where the Prophet used to fast mostly during the month of Shaban. He also helps the members of his community by making a chart on which person or family will contribute to the Iftar dinner in the evenings. The Medinah Sisters a group of women who support Masjid At-Taqwa, help out with the preparation of the meals and others help with the serving of the dinner.

Brother Uthman Imam Siraj’s Assistant Imam, helps to coordinate the serving of the meals on the brother’s side. Imam Siraj Wahaj Masjid located in the heart of Bedford Stuyvesant, once a drug-infested neighborhood in the 1980’s now has about forty Muslim businesses that surround Imam Siraj’s Masjid. Most of the ethnic make up of Imam Siraj’s Masjid are African, African- American and Bangladesh.

Another masjid in Jamaica New York called Masjid Al-Humdullah, under Imam Charles Bilal, a former political candidate for office is also a very family oriented Masjid. Imam Bilal’s wife, Sister Aminah Bilal along with other sisters, takes on a great responsibility in preparing the Iftar dinners for a crowd of 30 to 50  a night. Her being the wife of the Imam also plays a role in helping her husband to maintain the Masjid throughout the month of Ramadan. Sister Aminah Bilal wife of Imam Charles Bilal of 35 years takes great pleasure in assisting her husband throughout the month of Ramadan. Over the past nine years, she tries to arrange with her job to take off for the first week of Ramadan to prepare all the meals for each night of the first week. This process helps her husband’s Masjid’s transition easier for the rest of the month of Ramadan.

“I do it for the pleasure of Allah,� She states. “My goal is to get everyone fed and happy, but I could not do it without the support of the other sisters.� Sis Aminah Bilal who wants to remain humble extends the thanks of the support she receives to individuals such as Sister Beatrice, Brother Suliman, Sister Shahadah Muhammad and Sister Shirley Muhammad: “I cannot take all of the credit, because preparing the food takes at least six hours a day and without these individuals help I would not be able to do it.� Sister Aminah Bilal in addition tries to have food fundraising dinners prior to the month of Ramadan to help support the extra expenses the Masjid accumulates throughout the month.

With the help of her training from her former MGT classes, she adds a loving touch of homemade recipes passed down to her from her mother and grandmother. After the members of the masjid eaten their meal for the evening, the community comes together before the Isha Salat to play an Islamic trivia game. Sis Aminah Brother Shaheed along with other members of the community participates in the game and it extends the spirit of family togetherness throughout the month of Ramadan.

Imam Charles Bilal former candidate for political office for the Jamaica area extends his support to prison inmates during the month of Ramadan. His schedule as a chaplain for the Rikers Island prisons is extended from a five-day schedule to a seven-day schedule. He tries to keep the inmates spiritually uplifted and refreshed throughout the month of Ramadan something that becomes a daily challenge but is very rewarding. In the prison, he makes sure that self-improvement classes are enforced, family counseling programs, and other activities that reinforce the inmates’ responsibilities towards society.

“In prison the inmates self esteem is very low so I try to reinstate their importance of their individuality as a human being,� he say. Even though the brothers are locked up Imam Bilal emphasizes that fasting during Ramadan is incumbent upon every human being who is not sick and is mentally stable. Not allowing the brothers to utilize the fact that they are incarcerated as an excuse not to fast, Imam Bilal over the past eighteen years has been able to make sure that the prisoners receive well balanced Halal foods for the morning and evening meals. He also teaches Jumah in the prisons as well as provides an Eid celebration after the month of Ramadan wherein the inmates are able to reunite with their families.

The philosophy that Imam Bilal uses to reinforce the courage of the inmates is that ‘the world is a prison for the believers’. “I utilize this ideology so that the brothers are not focused so much on the physical prison that they are in but rather focus on their spirituality to free them of their mental prison,� the Imam says.

He uses the month of Ramadan to reinforce this ideology by using the practice of fasting to further discipline the inmates to prepare them for the outside world upon the time of their release. Imam Abdul-Azeem Khan an Imam of Masjid Bin Omar Aziz another Masjid in the Jamaica Queens area keeps his community busy with fundraisers to help with the expenses of the Masjid and to give to Muslim charities in various countries. The preparation for the Iftar dinners starts from 10am in the morning wherein both brothers and sisters participate in the cooking to feed fifty to one hundred people daily.

This year three Guyanese Masjids were shut down prior to the month of Ramadan, so this increased the participation at Imam Khan’s Masjid also a mostly Guyanese Masjid. Imam Khan pledges his Masjid to be an umbrella Masjid under the Imam Warith Deen Muhammad community.

Thus, his Masjid receives supporters from various ethnicities and backgrounds. Some of the activities that Imam Khan plans to have after the month a post Eid dinner in which he will have a scholar speak on Aisah Bint Abu Bakr and her wisdom.

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