Note: Ramadan begins for Muslims around the world on June 6, 2016 and will last for 30 days. Ramadan follows the lunar cycle and therefore the dates change from year-to-year.

Every year in Oklahoma, more than 40,000 Muslims across the state begin preparing for 30 days of no food or drink as they embark upon the Holy Month of Ramadan.

I once explained our ‘new’ Okie tradition to a group of non-Muslims, and an audience member just about fell out of her chair when I mentioned the preceding sentence. Once she collected herself, she inquired how we could survive without food or drink for an entire month! It was then I realized I should clarify that it is only during the daylight hours that we fast, refraining from food, drink, and illicit activities, in hopes of drawing nearer to God.

Observing the Holy Month of Ramadan is not a new practice, although it may be unfamiliar to some in our state. For more than 2 decades, Muslims in Oklahoma have meshed the spirit of an age-old faith tradition with the famous Oklahoma Standard to create a new Okie tradition.

The following are just a few ways in which the month of Ramadan brings many benefits to the people of our state:

Serving Oklahomans in need: As a part of our Ramadan tradition, the Oklahoma Muslim community is drawn to commit a portion of their time to community service. In the past we have seen more than 300 Muslims of all ages lend a hand at the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma to package meals for more then 20,000 Oklahomans, all while fasting.

Building bridges of understanding: When polled on social media, many Okies indicated that their favorite part of Ramadan is the opportunity to join their Muslim neighbors for a nightly iftar, or fast-breaking meal. This unique opportunity encourages cross cultural exchange through the preparation of traditional dishes such as biryani, maqloobeh, or mansaf.

Bringing families closer together: One of the challenges that has emerged in our society is the breakdown of the family unit. Ramadan serves as a means for many families to rekindle their bonds as they come together every night for 30 days to share a meal after the long 16 hour fasts of summer.

Praying for community healing: Every night for the entire month of Ramadan, Muslims across the state gather for night prayer to remind them not only of their duty to God, but also of their responsibility towards their fellow man and country. It is not uncommon for prayers to be offered for a better quality of life for our fellow Oklahomans of all faiths.

Tradition is often a word that implies something unchangeable and steeped in centuries of history. For Oklahomans, many of our dearest held traditions are much shorter lived. As our state has grown over the last 109 years, new traditions have been created by new families every day Oklahoma Muslims celebrating Ramadan represents the true spirit of the American melting pot and the heart of the Oklahoma Standard. Our generosity and our heart allows us to expand and grow, celebrating new ideas, new families, and new traditions.

This year, the 4th of July is during Ramadan. Our faith traditions and our national traditions will overlap. We will celebrate the birth of our nation with the same flag waving and barbeques and fireworks as everyone else – we just might eat a little later than the rest of y’all.