Ramadan 2023: Chicago area Muslims begin holy month observance with acts of charity

ByRavi Baichwal and Maher Kawash WLS logo
Friday, March 24, 2023
Chicago area Muslims begin Ramadam celebrations
Families gathered Thursday night for prayer and to break the first fast of the holy month of Ramadan.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Observance of Ramadan, a holy month of sacrifice for millions of Muslims around the world, began Thursday.

"Ramadan is a giving month," said Faten Salameh, case manager at Islamic Circle of North America. "It's a self-discipline month, it's to be more humble, to be more giving."

For the next 30 days, Muslims will abstain from food, drink and sensual pleasures between dusk and dawn. Daily prayer and spiritual reflection is prioritized, and one of the most important parts of the month with charity and community service.

Observance of Ramadan, a holy month of sacrifice for millions of Muslims around the world, began Thursday.

On the Northwest Side Thursday, the ICNA fed more than 250 people at a food pantry, and plan to serve even more on Saturday.

"IT's very good they help people every time, not just in Ramadan," said Nadia Gorgees, food pantry recipient.

The line of people stretched down the block on Devon, demonstrating the need for the food pantry's services. They do these giveaways weekly, but with Ramadan's beginning, the charity is even more important.

"In Islam, I cannot go to sleep knowing my neighbor doesn't have any food or anything to sleep on, so this recharges us to give more," Salameh said.

The celebration of Ramadan this year is also unique because it will overlap with Passover and Easter, which is unusual because the Muslim, Jewish and Christian holidays are based off different calendars and calculations.

Thursday night, after the sun set, the Jazayerli family gathered for the first of 30 feasts.

"You are honestly just so grateful for all you have in the day," said Jenna Jazayerli.

And that's the point of Ramadan, to spend the ninth month of the lunar calendar doing good deeds and practicing self-restraint in keeping with sawm, Arabic for "to refrain," one of the pillars of Islam.

"Something like food and water as simple as that is something you take for granted so when you're fasting you were thinking just how merciful God is and how blessed you are," Jazayerli said.

The fast is broken with a date, then a sumptuous meal. Then there is prayer, at home or the mosque.

Beyond atonement, the tradition sharpens people's mindset to live a purposeful life.

"It makes a mom very proud very happy I am also flooded with memories of my childhood and remembering the ones who have already passed," said Dr. Belsam Kashlan, a dentist who grew up in Indiana and carries on the tradition with her Kansas-born physician husband and their four daughters. "It is something that I look forward to. I want to pause in that reset and that connection with myself and God and with my community."

"The most natural thing in the world to do is to grab a drink, a fruit," said Dr. Rany Jazayerli. "If you can control that initial impulse, you can control a lot of other impulses."