Like Passover and Easter, it is a cornerstone religious holiday and a movable feast based on the phases of the moon. Like Passover and Easter, the people who celebrate it identify themselves as the spiritual children of Abraham.
The religious observance is Ramadan, which this year began on July 8 and concludes on the evening of Aug. 7.
The month-long observance is comparable in length to the 40 days of fasting and penance Christians observe during Lent, but Ramadan, despite the abstinence from food and water observed during the day, is a joyous time for the faithful.
The fasting goes hand in hand with "appreciating the blessings given to us," as Dr. Rehan Khan, of Masjid Al-Falaah in Abingdon, said. Masjid Al-Falaah is Harford County's Muslim community center and is off Philadelphia Road in Abingdon.
With more than 1.6 billion adherents worldwide, Islam has long been regarded as one of the world's great faiths, yet it also is among the youngest. While its roots go back to Abraham, also regarded by Jews and Christians as partaking of the first covenant with the Almighty, Islam's defining event took place in the year 622 when the Prophet Muhammad and his followers fled prosecution in Mecca and took refuge in Medina, both on the Arabian peninsula, but not all that far from Jerusalem.
By contrast, the event that commemorates the founding of the Jewish faith is the establishment of the Passover and the Exodus from Egypt, which, according to the Jewish calendar, was 5,773 years ago, many, many generations after the time of Abraham. And, according to Christian tradition, the year of our Lord, Anno Domini or AD in calendar shorthand, was 2013 years ago.
Still, most people in this majority Christian country look back to Abraham as a key figure in the establishment of the faith. It's something shared with Jews and Muslims, and it's the kind of commonality that makes events like this coming weekend's community dinner sponsored by the Abingdon Muslim center's congregation an exemplary event.
Throughout history, Christians, Jews, Muslims and people claiming the justification of plenty of other faiths have engaged in institutional violence against others. These days, followers of the Prophet Muhammad are too often all regarded as being the fanatics. To draw a similar conclusion about Christians would be to regard all as participants in the Spanish Inquisition. It doesn't take many bad actors to give everyone a bad name.
It's worth noting that jihad, often equated in the west as translating to holy war, is a term more properly interpreted as struggle. While part of the struggle in early Islam pitted Muhammad and his followers against their persecutors, a more important struggle is regarded as the internal struggle to resist the temptations of the flesh. It is just such a struggle that is something of a commonality among the three great faiths traced to Abraham.
In organizing a traditional Ramadan iftar, or fast-breaking dinner, for people of all faiths in Abingdon set for this Saturday evening, July 27, Dr. Khan said: "We are here to show our friends and neighbors that American Muslims will continue to be contributing members of our society." The public is invited to join the local Muslim community for the dinner. Reservations can be made by calling Dr. Khan at 202-236-7338.
It is unfortunate that fellow spiritual children of Abraham would feel they need to call attention to something that is so basic. It is a sad reflection on all children of Abraham that human fears and frailties prevent us from getting along as the children of one sound family.