During Ramadan, Chicago Muslims step up efforts to help earthquake victims

The holy month of Ramadan began Wednesday evening, and observant Muslims will fast for 30 days from sunrise to sunset, seeking a deeper consciousness.

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Rami Nashashibi, executive director of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network, says a prayer as Mayor Lori Lightfoot holds a ribbon at a ribbon-cutting for Go Green Community Fresh Market in the Englewood neighborhood in March 2022. Nashashibi says the holy month of Ramadan offers his organization a chance to bolster the community work it does year-round.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

As Ramadan kicked off Wednesday night, the local Muslim community is stepping up efforts to help the millions affected by devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Syria last month.

Muslims typically increase giving during Ramadan. The Orland Park Prayer Center, for example, will be collecting funds every night during Ramadan, which continues for the next 30 days, for earthquake relief.

Already, the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, in collaboration with Chicago mosques and community groups, has raised $2 million for earthquake victims.

“This is such a time of sharing meals, family togetherness and enjoying each other’s company,” said Arjumand Khan, a council spokesperson. “And that is far from the case for those in Turkey and Syria suffering from loss, homelessness and hunger.”

In addition to community service, observers of the holy month will fast — no eating or drinking — from sunrise to sunset starting Thursday morning. The two meals for the day are suhoor, a predawn meal, and iftar, the meal to break the fast after sundown. Ramadan ends April 21 with Eid al-Fitr, a holiday celebrating the end of the fast.

Rami Nashashibi is the founding executive director of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN), a community organization based in the Englewood neighborhood. He said the holy month gives his organization a chance to bolster the community work it does year-round.

“For us, we really step it up during Ramadan,” Nashashibi said. “It’s an opportunity to revisit why you do what you do and make sure you’re doing it for a greater reason than receiving accolades and to be accountable to a greater power.”

Fasting is one of the core principles of both Ramadan and Islam. The ancient act of fasting is a vehicle to strive for a deeper consciousness and connection with a higher power, Nashashibi said.

“The practice of coming together, praying together and eating together creates connection,” Nashashibi said. “Fasting, while difficult to do, is so much easier to do together, and there’s a great lesson in that. The idea that communally we are all in this together, not just in Chicago, but with Muslims worldwide.”

The sacred season is also an opportunity for IMAN to grow support for its work. The network holds a drive to raise $1 million during Ramadan, and in recent years it has met or surpassed that goal.

“When you have the gifts of health, housing and community, you need to help those who fight and struggle to have those gifts, who have been systematically disinvested in and abandoned,” Nashashibi said.

“Ramadan is a perfect chance to uplift that.”

Those funds support programs like Green ReEntry, which helps people who are returning from incarceration with transitional housing, life skills and vocational training.

IMAN also operates a health center that provides primary care and behavioral health services, including teaching art therapy. It also manages a community-owned grocery store in Englewood that provides fresh fruit and vegetables and halal options for Ramadan.

In Englewood, the organization is in the process of converting an abandoned school into a community center with 44 residential units, a health care center and an office for job referral programs.

Rami Nashashibi, executive director of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network Monday, Oct. 26, 2020.

Rami Nashashibi, executive director of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network, stands outside the shuttered Granville T. Woods Math & Science Academy Elementary School, which his group is helping transform into a community center.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times files

Later in the month, IMAN will host an iftar on March 29. The group has invited mayoral candidates Paul Vallas and Brandon Johnson to break fast.

“It’s not so much a forum, but a way to give them both opportunities to talk about their own spiritual convictions,” Nashashibi said. “We see all our work for the community as spiritual work. So this is a chance for the candidates to participate in the holy month.”

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