Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, began yesterday. During the month, participating Muslims refrain from eating or drinking during daylight hours. Muslims believe Ramadan was the month during which the first verses of the Koran were revealed to the Islamic prophet Mohammed. The month is based on the Islamic lunar calendar and moves back about 11 days each year. So I guess that's why it seems to come earlier each year. I've been seeing a few feature stories here and there but wanted to highlight this one from the Journal-Sentinel of Milwaukee.
Written by Annysa Johnson, the article describes the work of a hafiz, a term that describes Muslims who have memorized the Koran. It is a great way to advance annual stories about Ramadan while also doing the important work of basic education about Muslim practice:
The boy rocks gently on his knees, eyes closed, as if lost in meditation. The young imam tilts his head to listen, and the boy begins to chant.
It is a rhythmic, almost musical, intonation in Arabic as he recites, from memory, long passages of the Qur'an.
Like the imam before them, the boys at Masjid Al-Huda in Greenfield are working to "make hifz," to memorize and recite the Muslim holy book in its entirety.
One who succeeds will become a hafiz, a guardian of the faith, whose job it is to preserve the Qur'an - not on the printed page, but in his heart and mind.
"He is preserving the word of God," said Al-Huda Imam Noman Hussain, a Chicago-born hafiz who at 22 has mastered the Qur'an in all 10 Arabic dialects.
The article, which does a great job of succinctly translating each of the terms it uses, explains the particular significance of the hafiz during Ramadan. During the month, the Koran is read from beginning to end, one chapter each night. Some of the boys mentioned in the lede will take part in that:
"It's a great responsibility," said Omar Syed, 12, whose older brother was chosen to recite last year. "When you're in class and you hear the voices, you want to be like Shuraim and Sudais," he said - a nod to the two famed huffaz of the Grand Mosque in Mecca.
We get a lot of detail about the classes at this particular mosque as well as context to how they compare to others. The reporter includes details about the pious postures of the students down to the physical description of the mosque.
More than anything, we get great quotes:
"I'm looking for that most perfect pronunciation - but also that he is living according to the Qur'an," said Hussain, who can trace his lineage as a hafiz 40 teachers back to the Prophet Muhammad.
"If one recites beautifully, but does not practice upon it, you won't call him a great hafiz."
That is one of the reasons Al-Huda instituted the hifz and Qur'an study programs, said Aijaz Noor, a Milwaukee physician and president of the masjid. Those who commit violence in the name of Islam, he said, "don't understand their religion."
"We want them to be good Muslims and good citizens of this country?.?.?. and not on the fringe," Noor said.
Again, the article is full of detail that anyone unfamiliar with this aspect of Muslim religious life will appreciate. Do let us know if you see any other particularly good or bad coverage of Ramadan this month. I, for one, am glad to see something that's not related to parsing the words of President Obama's annual greeting or something else more political than religious.