By: Katie Stever, Intern at Niagara
On July 24th, Niagara Foundation and friends at the Center for Jewish, Christian, and Islamic Studies at Chicago Theological Seminary (CTS) came together to host Voices of Ramadan. Overlooking the Hyde Park and Woodlawn neighborhoods, guests learned about modern experiences of Ramadan from two panelists, Tahera Ahmed and Tahir Abdullah. Ahmed and Abdullah told their stories and expressed differences and similarities in their experience with fasting, praying, and Islam all together. Hind Makki served as discussion moderator.
Tahera Ahmad is the chaplain at Northwestern University in Evanston. She grew up in Morton Grove, IL, where she played varsity basketball at Niles West High School. She has studied a variety of Islamic and Muslim-Christian relations throughout her academic work.
In her portion of the conversation, Ahmad discussed that as a young girl growing up in the Muslim faith, she thought Ramadan to simply be a time to “rack up points” with God. It wasn’t until her years in high school, a time when most Muslims begin to fast during Ramadan, that Ahmad began to reflect on the deeper meanings of the sacred month. She looked within the Qur’an and meditated on what it means for Muslims to deny themselves sustenance in order to develop a stronger relationship with God and, ultimately, to serve God’s creation. For Tahera Ahmad, Ramadan is a time to revive the self. It is a time to deeply reflect on how to better the world one lives in, whether it’s individually, or communally.
Tahir Abdullah is the Assistant Director of Spiritual Life & Advisor for Muslim Affairs at the University of Chicago. A convert to Sunni Islam, Abdullah discussed his struggles with articulating his faith with close friends and family and the fears he had when doing so.
Converting to Islam was a strongly personal experience for Abdullah. One of the most difficult challenges he faced was talking about his new-found religion with his grandmother, the most pious person he knows. Once he received her gracious acceptance of his own faith, he knew that being a person of faith was more than just a label; he understood it as a practice of compassion and understanding. When he first began to fast during Ramadan, he did not view it as a time to gain points with God. Rather, he viewed it as the first time that he was doing something for God. He aims to strengthen his relationship further with himself and with God and Ramadan is the time for such reflections.
Following the panel discussion, an Adhan, the Muslim call to worship, was conducted by a local community member. Niagara and CTS staff handed out dates and bottles of water as guests moved to the prayer space in the chapel and the connecting dining area for the delicious Iftar meal.
Niagara is humbled at the partnerships it has with so many other amazing organizations. The partnership with Chicago Theological Seminary helped make Voices of Ramadan a huge success. The evening provided an opportunity for members of the community to learn about personal experiences and insights within Islam’s holiest month. This is the first year of a full roster of Sharing the Faith events. During the Easter season we held similar Sharing the Faith events with Christian communities around Chicago. We look forward to exploring the Jewish holiday of Sukkot this fall. Stay tuned!