For the first time in Victoria, mayor and council invited an imam to City Hall to celebrate the beginning of the holy Islamic month of Ramadan.
“The City has been very good over the years at celebrating Christmas, we have carollers come in and sing for us,” said Mayor Lisa Helps during a recent ceremony. “And for many years there’s been a tradition on the first day Hanukkah to invite a rabbi to come in, and we light the menorah together.”
Helps was approached by Imam Ismail Mohamed Nur of Masjid al-Iman and asked what the City could do to help the community understand and celebrate Ramadan with the nearly 3,000 Muslims who live in Greater Victoria.
“The month of Ramadan is a blessed month for Muslims, it is a month of reflection, of charity and generosity,” Mohamed said. “We are encouraged to fast. It happens in daylight hours, from sunrise to sunset, but there’s a spirit to the month of Ramadan. That spirit has a much broader impact of purpose, more than just abstaining from eating or drinking.”
He said one of the main purposes of fasting is to help foster a sense of compassion for the less fortunate. “When you stop eating and drinking, you look at those who are less fortunate with more compassion. You’re able to tell yourself, I know the pains of hunger and thirst, I know how it feels to go without food, even if it’s for one day.”
At this time of year, Muslims are also encouraged to donate to charity if they have the means to do so. Mohamed Nur said in general, people are asked to donate 2.5 per cent of their annual wealth to whatever cause they choose, though charities directly helping the impoverished are often encouraged.
Ramadan is also a time focused on prayer and community. Muslims are encouraged to pray and reflect, and then break their fast after the sun has set, together with their families or communities.
The month-long fast may seem difficult, the imam said, but it’s also a great opportunity to commit to breaking bad habits such as smoking, or committing to healthier ones.
“Once you’ve picked up a good habit or dropped a bad one, and done it for a whole month, chances are those habits will stick with you for the rest of the year.”
At the end of the month comes the celebration of Eid al-Fitr, a large celebration not to be confused with the Eid al-Adha, which celebrates the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to the Mecca. Ramadan is based on a lunar calendar and can therefore happen at different times of the year.
On May 25, Victoria council has agreed to partake in a day-long fast, and have challenged the wider community to join with them to try to understand what Muslims are celebrating. Everyone will then break their fast with the Muslim community at City Hall after sunset.
“I believe that the benefits of Ramadan are something that we can all share in, whether a person fasts in the context of their religion or otherwise,” Mohamed Nur said.”And if we come together and share based on those shared values, I think it helps create a more understanding community.”
This year Ramadan runs from evening of May 16 to the evening of June 15.