Muslim Americans Prioritize Gaza Activism during Ramadan

16:25 - April 09, 2024
News ID: 3487882
IQNA – During the holy month of Ramadan this year, the Palestinian cause took center stage among Muslims across the US as the Israeli regime’s genocidal war on Gaza continues.

Muslim Americans pray outside the White House during a Ramadan protest against Joe Biden's support for Israel's war on Gaza on April 2, 2024


Standing outside the White House, Mohamad Habehh placed his right hand on his face and closed his eyes in a sign of spiritual devotion, reciting the Muslim call for prayer.

“Allahu akbar, Allahu akbar [God is greatest, God is greatest].” The words announced the end of a day of fasting as dozens of people gathered last week to protest against President Joe Biden’s support for Israel’s war on Gaza and an iftar meal the White House was hosting for government employees.

The demonstrators had their own iftar outside, despite the gloomy weather that evening, breaking their fast with dates, a shawarma sandwich and a bottle of water.

“End the siege on Gaza now. Free, free Palestine,” the crowd chanted as the rain intensified, drenching a large Palestinian flag fluttering on the edge of Pennsylvania Avenue. “Not another nickel, not another dime, no more money for Israel’s crimes.”

Their humble meal, preceded by communal prayers on the soaked pavement underscored the push by many Muslim Americans to prioritize Gaza activism during the holy month, which is normally a time of joy and reflection.

“This is the least we could do for the people of Gaza at a time where some of these people can’t break their fast; some of these people are starving,” Habehh, director of development at the American Muslims for Palestine nonprofit, told Al Jazeera.

In Washington, DC, and across the United States, the Palestinian cause took center stage during Ramadan amid the war on Gaza.

Muslim American communities rebuffed politicians who have not called for a ceasefire, held fundraisers for the Gaza Strip and organized protests demanding an end to the war.

“The theme around the country for Muslim Americans has been Gaza,” Habehh said.

“Whether it’s in the group prayers that we are making during this month, whether it’s in the talks that we give, whether it’s in the events we host, Gaza has been constant. Many of our community members have made sure that their neighbors, their elected officials, all know where they stand.”

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Jinan Deena, a Palestinian American chef and activist who helped organize two fundraising iftars for Gaza in the Washington, DC, area during Ramadan, said Muslims in the US are keeping Palestine at the “forefront” in their approach to the holy month this year.

Muslim Americans Prioritize Gaza Activism during Ramadan

“People are feeling that it’s a lot heavier than usual. They know that it’s not your typical Ramadan.”


‘Somber’ Ramadan

Ramadan, which ends this week as Muslims across the world observe Eid al-Fitr, is usually a festive time for Muslims: extravagant meals, family gatherings, nighttime festivals and celebratory events.

But with famine threatening more than two million people in Gaza amid the blockade in the territory, Muslim communities have toned down their celebrations.

Instead, this Ramadan, Muslim Americans channeled their energy to raise funds for Gaza and organize political efforts demanding an end to the war on the enclave, which has killed more than 33,000 Palestinians.

In southeast Michigan – home to one of the most visible Arab and Muslim communities in the country – the city’s renowned Suhoor Festival was cancelled this year, with organizers arguing that the joyous event cannot be justified amid the killings and pain in Gaza.

In previous Ramadans, the pre-dawn event would draw hundreds of people from across the state and the country each night to enjoy the food trucks and vendors.

Amad Elzayat, founder of the Amity Foundation charitable organization, said Arab and Muslim Americans in Michigan had a more “somber” Ramadan this year.

“It has been different,” Elzayat told Al Jazeera of the holy month this year. “Seeing the kids in Palestine starving, what people in south Lebanon are going through, it was hard for us to sit down and have a meal like we normally do in Ramadan.” South Lebanon has been the target of multiple Israeli missile strikes since the start of the war on October 7.

He added that Arab and Muslim businesses and individuals have upped their charitable donations with a focus on Gaza this year.

“This is the first year where I’ve seen the community really come together for a cause. Palestine brought this community together. Gaza brought us together on the right path,” Elzayat said.

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Imam Mohammad Ali Elahi, who leads the Islamic House of Wisdom, a mosque in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn Heights, also said Gaza has been the main priority in religious sermons and Ramadan programming over the past month.

“There is no room for happiness or reason for happiness or mood for happiness as we follow this news of new crimes and new massacres in Gaza every moment,” Elahi said.

The imam called for scaling back Eid celebrations and sticking to holiday prayers focused on Gaza and the Palestinian struggle.

He also voiced disappointment in US politicians, hitting out at President Joe Biden’s “weak” leadership in supporting Israel.

Still, many staunchly pro-Israel politicians, including Biden, have released statements to acknowledge Ramadan and praise Muslim Americans.

Elahi said US officials should pressure Israel to end its horrific offensive in Gaza, rather than using Ramadan to make overtures to Muslim Americans.

“This is hypocrisy. This is not acceptable. This is betrayal,” he said, referring to Biden’s “unwavering” backing of Israel.


Rebuffing politicians

Early in Ramadan, several Muslim groups warned local communities against hosting politicians who have not called for a ceasefire in Gaza to attend iftars and use the holy month for their own electoral purposes.

In Houston, Texas, that approach was tested in the first half of the holy month, when dozens of Muslim leaders and organizations called for boycotting an iftar dinner with Mayor John Whitmire, who had resisted calls for backing an end to the war on Gaza.

The Islamic Society of Greater Houston, one of the largest Muslim groups in the US, disassociated from the iftar, which it helped co-organize over the past 24 years.

Dozens of protesters subsequently interrupted Whitmire’s speech at the iftar on March 17, according to local reports and footage shared online, many sporting red gloves and holding up their hands to decry the bloodshed in Gaza.

William White, director of the Houston chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), said while Muslim Americans realize that many – if not most – US officials support Israel, the community had to draw a line for engaging with politicians this Ramadan.

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“This year is different,” White told said in March, citing the growing death toll in Gaza.

“Condemning the killing of 30,000 people is really easy, I think. So that basic step of just saying, ‘In order for us to sit together, you have to call for a ceasefire’ is what the line was this year. It is bar-zero for Muslim political participation in this country at this moment.”

White added that it is “preposterous” for politicians who have not called for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza to send Ramadan greetings and claim to value the Muslim community.

“We don’t accept it. We don’t want it. You can take that and give it to somebody else because clearly you don’t serve us and you’re not listening to us,” he said.

In Columbus, Ohio, the city council cancelled an iftar dinner after CAIR withdrew its support for the event in protest against the local government’s failure to adopt a ceasefire resolution.

Several municipalities across the country have passed such measures.

In New York City, prominent Muslim groups also shunned an iftar organized by Mayor Eric Adams, a staunch Israel supporter.

Shahana Hanif, the only Muslim woman on the city council, called for boycotting Adams’s iftar even before the holy month started.

“Every year, irrespective of how our mayor is doing, the Muslim community comes out in our most beautiful dresses, we forget our differences with the mayor, and we show up,” Hanif said of the city’s annual iftar.

“And we said this year: we are grieving; we are mourning, and we have to withhold our support for this mayor.”

Hanif added that she never received an invitation to the mayor’s iftar, which took place on March 19.

She described the event, which was not open to the press, as a poorly attended “flop”.


Ramadan activism

With hunger spreading in Gaza this year, the act of fasting – not consuming food and water from sunrise to sunset – took a deeper meaning for many Muslims this year. And the joy that comes with breaking one’s fast has been dampened by the lack of access to food for many Palestinians.

While advocates stress that Palestinians’ struggle for their rights is not based on religion, their cause remains important for Muslims around the world.

Jerusalem al-Quds is home to Islam’s third holiest site, Al-Aqsa Mosque, where worshippers regularly come under assault and restrictions by Israeli forces.

Moreover, Palestinian and Arab communities in the US, which are religiously diverse, overlap with the broader Muslim community.

Muslim American activists also say Ramadan provides the community with a platform to speak up against injustice regardless of the identity of the victims.

“Ramadan is a moment of deep community and collective power-building and reflection. And for me as an elected official, it is an opportunity to strengthen and reaffirm that power that we have,” said councilwoman Hanif.

Edward Ahmed Mitchell, the deputy director of CAIR, said Muslim Americans are spreading awareness about the Palestinian struggle and engaging with others on the issue during Ramadan.

“But they are emphasizing the importance of stopping the Gaza genocide, and they’re making it clear that politicians who support the Gaza genocide are not welcome to celebrate Ramadan with us,” Mitchell said.



Source: Al Jazeera