On Aug. 1, the appearance of the first crescent moon signalled that it is time once again for Ramadan, the holy month of fasting for Muslims around the world. It is also the time for Zakat, which means almsgiving. Zakat is about immersion in community -- giving what you can, receiving if you are in need. Muslims, according to sacred obligation, must give according to their means. This can be in the form of distributing money or it can be giving in the form of donated food or service. It is especially important to make one's Zakat during the month of Ramadan so that everyone can share in the celebration and enjoy the blessing of food.
When we set out to make our "Holy Kitchens" film about Islam, we called it the Moon of Eïd, to acknowledge the lunar calendar that governs the start and end of the holy month of Ramadan. To be in a Muslim country during this month is an extraordinary experience. We spoke with Professor Ali Asani of Harvard University about sharing food:
It is important that we speak about Islam, now more than ever before. We receive our news about the Islamic world primarily from commercial news, and let's just be honest here: Good news is boring, and it doesn't grab ratings. Most of what we see and read about Islam is composed of horror stories that appall. What we don't receive is positive images of everyday people going about their everyday business who just happen to be Muslim. What has happened to all the good people whose voices have been drowned out? Where are images of and stories about generous Muslim friends and kind Muslim neighbors that we all know? There are more than 1 billion Muslims around the world, going about their daily routine with no more frightening thought than taking care of their children and trying to get ahead in the world. Yet most of what we talk about is the terrible, sick few. Every faith has its lunatic fringe and we in the west must bear in mind that the overwhelming majority of Muslims are just like us. They are people who dearly love their children and want a better world for them.
During Ramadan, Muslim countries are transformed and experience a vast, unified celebration that honors and promulgates the principles of abstinence and sharing. During the day, practitioners refrain from food and drink. When the sun goes down, a nightly celebration begins with everyone sitting down to Iftar at the same time. Iftar means breaking the fast. When people break the fast, they reach out and share. In Morocco, Egypt, the U.S.A. and France, during the course of making this film, we have been invited numerous times to sit and share dates, eggs, soup and bread with complete strangers. While riding on a train during Ramadan, people spontaneously take out their food and share everything they have. This is customary all around the Muslim world. It is everyone's obligation to see that the needy are fed. In Islam this practice of Zakat is part of the daily experience.
The Muslim world is vital and interesting, wondrously diverse and full of good people. It covers the full political spectrum from liberal to conservative, and it is replete with people sharing food during Ramadan. We in the West should remember that when we hear bad news from the Islamic world, that there is also much quiet good going on. Muslim people of sincere and abiding faith are reaching out, all over the world, sharing and keeping the covenant: They are their brothers' and sisters' keepers. This is even more vitally important in countries where there are few social services. People share their abundance and keep the faith. If you should happen to meet a Muslim during this holy month of Ramadan, reach out and wish him or her a Mabrouk (blessed) Ramadan.
About Holy Kitchens Films
The "Holy Kitchens" films have it as their goal to foster a greater understanding and fellowship among followers of different faiths. Among strangers, one of the easiest conversations to have is about food and that is why we chose it as our topic. In a way that is grounded and non-threatening, we simply talk about people sharing meals. It is a real pleasure for us to meet with people after screening our films at places like Harvard, Princeton, Oxford and Columbia and talk about the subject of sharing food and how it affects community. Seeing people steeped within deep traditions doing great things moves every audience. They open up and begin to see themselves in a wider context. They begin to recognize that we're all part of the whole human family and not stuck within our own isolated identities. When we look outward, we create more harmony and oneness.