It’s easy to fear the unknown. It’s easy to fear those who are different from us, who practice different religions or represent different cultures.
Our 24-hour news cycle feeds into these fears. What we know about Islam and the Middle East—or think we know—often comes from those who have a vested interest in sharing only the most sensational and fear-based stories.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
We can learn about Islam and Muslim cultures from Muslims themselves. Ramadan is the perfect time to make friends and build relationships with Muslim members of your community. Here are three ways to start...
1. Meet the neighbors.
Have you met the Muslim families in your community? No? Are you sure? Not all Muslims look "Middle Eastern."
Not sure how to meet Muslim families in your area? Call the local mosque. If there isn’t a mosque in your community, you could always plan a trip to find one.
If there's a university in your town, check to see if they host any Islamic or international student associations. There may be Muslim young people in your community who would welcome a friendly face.
You can also check with refugee resettlement organizations. Many newly settled refugees keep a low profile because of past trauma and fear. Resettlement organizations can help make connections that will enrich you and your new neighbors.
Whatever you do, be sure to greet your Muslim friends this month. You can say "Ramadan Mubarak" or "Ramadan Kareem" to wish them a blessed Ramadan. Don’t worry if you don’t get the pronunciation perfect—your effort will be celebrated.
2. Encourage them in their fast.
Don’t assume Ramadan is a sorrowful chore. For many Muslims, it is both a responsibility and a joy! Yes, fasting is hard. Yes, fasting is harder in the summer heat. But pity won’t go over well. Encouragement, on the other hand, will be welcomed.
While you're at it, use the opportunity to learn a little about Islam. There's no need to become a scholar, but if you learn the basics about Ramadan and the Islamic faith, you’ll be in a better position to ask meaningful questions and to offer genuine encouragement.
Ask fasting Muslims what they are learning through the experience. Ramadan is a time of reflection and evaluation. Showing genuine interest in what they are learning—while resisting the urge to pry—will show that you care.
You can also encourage your Muslim neighbors by cultivating a culture of love around you. Change the atmosphere in your community. Be the one to cut off racist jokes or rants that paint all Muslims with a wide, negative brush. We each have so much influence on the collective culture of our communities.
3. Feast with them!
If you’re invited to an Iftar meal—the evening meal that breaks the daily fast—don't miss out! If you don’t currently have Muslim friends, call your local mosque to see if they offer open Iftar meals.
Inclusive feasts are happening in many cities around the world. The Ramadan Tent Project is a great one to check out if you happen to live in the UK or Turkey.
Check on international students at local universities, new refugee families, and others in your community who might be breaking their fasts alone. It’s much more meaningful to break the fast in community! Call and invite them to your house. Ask what Ramadan foods they miss, plan a late dinner that night, and invite them. If you don’t know how to make requested foods, Pinterest and Google are your friends.
You can also check out local restaurants owned by Muslim families. They might have special Iftar menus during Ramadan. Go for the experience.
If you don’t know any Muslims in your community or can’t get to a public Iftar meal, make your own. Look for recipes online. This is a perfect chance for families to explore cultures they might not know anything about. Research countries with large Muslim populations—like Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Djibouti, Egypt, Gambia, Indonesia, Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Kosovo, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Pakistan, Palestine, Somalia, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkey, Yemen. There is a world of tradition and cuisine to discover.
Communities find unity and strength in hard times, when residents band together to help each other through. We shouldn’t wait for hard times to strike before we come together, but sometimes that’s what it takes to prompt us into action.
We can create a different community culture—one of understanding and celebration—with just a little intention.