Ramadan is an opportunity to learn about Islam

One of the humbling things about getting older is realizing how much I don’t know. Take today, for example. A very important religious observance began at dawn. Do you know what it is?

The answer is Ramadan, a month of fasting that is one of the Five Pillars of Islam.

I don’t remember learning anything about Islam when I was little. As a white kid growing up in the 1980s, I was taught a lot of things in public schools, but religious history wasn’t one them.

I made Muslim friends in college and read a little bit of the Quran for class, but I was still very ignorant — and didn’t realize it. It wasn’t that I was hateful or anything, I just couldn’t have told you what Islam was about.

Before Sept. 11, 2001, a lot of Americans were probably like me. Then afterward, we were still ignorant about Islam, but at least we finally realized it.

I want to be an open-minded, open-hearted person and I want my kids to be well-educated, too. According to Pew Research Center, Muslims make up more than 23 percent of the world’s population. So over the years I’ve collected books about Islam to read to my children.

My favorite is Rukhsana Khan’s “Muslim Child: Understanding Islam through Stories and Poems,” which is an engaging primer. Khan writes that it is very insulting to mistakenly call Muslims “Moslems.” A Moslem is someone who is unjust. A Muslim is somebody who seeks to live in peace with God. She says the correct pronunciation is “moo-slim.”

The “Usborne Encyclopedia of World Religions” defines Islam as obedience to God and Muslims as the followers of Islam. This book shares the wonderful Islamic saying: “Trust in God — but tie your camel first.”

Demi, from Carnation, created a beautiful book called “Muhammad” that explains about the man Muslims believe is the Messenger of God. Muhammad taught that all people, regardless of race, gender or socioeconomic class, should be treated with respect.

All three of these titles have lots of other facts, as well. For some reason, however — maybe since I’m learning all of this as an adult — this information has a hard time sticking. It’s like a giant locomotive barreling through my mind with no train track to grip.

So here’s Ramadan explained for me one more time. From dawn to sunset during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, Muslim adults eat and drink nothing. They also do as many good deeds as possible. In the evenings, they break their fast with dates and a special meal called iftar. This year, Ramadan continues until Eid al Fitr, on July 29.

Whenever I read about Ramadan, I am inspired by my Muslim friends’ faith and dedication. I am sorry it took so long for this Christian to pay attention.

Jennifer Bardsley is an Edmonds mom of two and blogs at teachingmybabytoread.com.

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