A local Muslim advocacy group is helping Afghan refugees prepare for their first Ramadan in Oklahoma.
The Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations held a three-day Ramadan Clothing Bazaar and encouraged Afghans resettling in Oklahoma City to browse through clothing designed to help people of all ages celebrate Ramadan in grand style.
Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting, begins on or around Saturday. It is one of the five pillars, or obligations, of Islam and its date is determined by the lunar calendar.
Observant Muslims around the world abstain from food, drink and sensual pleasures from dawn to sunset during the month, which commemorates the divine revelation of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad.
Adam Soltani, CAIR-OK executive director, said his nonprofit agency decided to do what it could to help Afghan refugees in Oklahoma City have a great Ramadan in their new home. He said the majority of the refugees participating in Catholic Charities of Oklahoma City’s Refugee Resettlement Program are Muslim so the outreach efforts made sense. Catholic Charities is the only federally authorized resettlement program in Oklahoma and CAIR-OK has been one of the nonprofit agencies, houses of worship and other organizations partnering with them to help Afghan refugees.
Soltani said to that end, a room at the CAIR-OK office in Oklahoma City was transformed into a pop-up bazaar and Ramadan kits were assembled for each refugee family in the Oklahoma City area.
“This is going to be the first Ramadan for more than 1,000 Afghans here in Oklahoma and in America, completely away from what they are used to,” he said. “We just wanted to help them feel more at home. You’re not eating and drinking for all of the daylight hours, it’s a communal time, so in some sense they will get a feeling of that because they’ve been relocated so that they are in close proximity to one another. At the same time, they’re going to miss some of the things that they are used to, so we thought this is a small thing that we could do to help them feel at home and kind of reinforce that they are safe and comfortable in Oklahoma as far as their faith and culture goes.”
CAIR-OK envisioned the clothing being worn by the families when they participate in iftar dinners, particularly communal iftars that are held at local mosques. Iftar is the meal eaten to break the fast each evening during Ramadan.
Soltani said he enjoyed seeing individuals looking at racks of clothing as they chose outfits and ensembles.
“It went great,” he said. “We served more than 200 individuals over the three days and everyone that arrived was so happy. You could sense appreciation but also this feeling of belonging from all those individuals.”
Some came as families, others were mothers with young children.
“That was probably my favorite part, seeing the young children trying on clothing and picking out a few stuffed animals,” Soltani said. “Seeing them laughing and smiling, that made me feel like this was exactly what needed to be done at this particular time.”
Ramadan in a box
He said each kit contains Ramadan coloring books for children, a prayer schedule, Ramadan decorations, candy and a carafe set for serving tea and other hot drinks. Soltani said some of the Afghan families requested a carafe or thermos when they arrived in the metro area so CAIR-OK decided the coming holy month seemed a fitting time to honor those requests.
Each kit also includes a food box from ICNA Relief, the relief arm of the Islamic Circle of North America.
He said 227 Ramadan kits were prepared for roughly 227 Afghan families, representing about 1,006 people. He said family sizes range between one and 10 members. The kits will be distributed in the next week or so.
Meanwhile, Soltani said many of the Afghan families have been welcomed by area mosques. He said most of them have moved into apartments or other housing, and they will be able to observe Ramadan in their homes and go to a local mosque for communal prayers.
However, he said there is a group of about 60 refugees for whom housing has not been found. This group is staying at a local hotel so CAIR-OK and Imad Enchassi, imam of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, came up with ways to help them participate in Ramadan to the fullest, despite their housing situation.
Soltani said prayer rugs were presented to the families and their hotel has made a conference room available for the group to pray together. He said CAIR-OK and Enchassi will have transportation available to transport the families to a mosque at least once a week during Ramadan.
“It’s the least we felt we could do to help them enjoy the month to the best of their abilities,” Soltani said.
Did you know?
The Islamic calendar follows the lunar cycle, which is shorter than the sun-based Gregorian calendar, so Ramadan moves up 11 days every year. Ramadan can last 29 or 30 days, depending on the lunar cycle. For some Muslims, the exact date is uncertain until they see the new moon.