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Muslim Communities Across The U.S. Prepare For Ramadan Amidst Heightened Islamophobia

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US Muslim communities

Muslim communities across the U.S. are gearing up for Ramadan amidst an unprecedented increase in Islamophobia and anti-Arab bias in light of Israel’s war on Gaza. Several masjids are also increasing their security measures this Ramadan in the aftermath of several Islamophobic and anti-Arab attacks.

The Context

The past few months have been marked by an increase in anti-Muslim incidents in light of Israel’s war on Gaza. Wadea Al-Fayoume, a six-year-old Palestinian-American was stabbed to death 26 times. Three Palestinian students were shot in Vermont for wearing a kuffiyeh, a traditional Palestinian scarf, and one of them is permanently paralyzed from the chest down. 

In November 2023, the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) reported an 216% increase in requests for help and reports of bias compared to the previous year. Palestine Legal, an organization that protects the rights of people in the U.S. who speak out in support of Palestine, experienced an unprecedented surge in requests for legal support from people targeted for Palestine advocacy.

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Muslim communities across the country are heading into Ramadan amidst a tense environment and with Gaza at the top of many people’s minds. 

Masjid Ramadan Preparations

Muslim Communities on campus

Ramadan decorations at the Islamic Society of Greater Lansing. (photo courtesy of the Islamic Society of Greater Lansing)

With this increased targeting of Muslims, many communities across the country are heightening their security measures in light of recent Islamophobic and anti-Arab attacks. 

Thasin Sardar is a board member at the Islamic Society of Greater Lansing in Michigan, a large and diverse community with over 1,000 attendees at each Jumuah prayer. He says about a third of the community consists of students, a third of refugees and recent immigrants, and a third of long-time residents. 

Sardar says his community has been organizing rallies and protests in support of Gaza, and people are not shying away from being vocal despite potential safety concerns. 

“Nobody is afraid of any repercussions,” he says. “We are not going to give up on asking for a ceasefire.” 

In light of events in recent months, the community has prepared for Ramadan by arranging for a greater security presence including members from within the community. This is in addition to the usual Ramadan preparations and setting up by decorating the masjid. 

Understanding the Environment on College Campuses

College campuses have been particularly impacted by what’s happening in Gaza, and campuses are roiled by debates over free speech and institutional suppression of pro-Palestinian activism. 

Columbia University suspended its chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). Rutgers University also suspended SJP, then reinstated it but on probation. Former Israeli soldiers sprayed an illegal chemical “skunk” on pro-Palestinian protesters. Pro-Palestinian students at Harvard are suing the university for failing to protect them from harassment. NYU suspended a pro-Palestinian student, revoked her scholarship, and denied her campus housing until fall 2024. Over 43 students at the University of Michigan are facing harassment, intimidation, arrests, and charges for their campus activism. 

And the list goes on. 

This suppression is prevalent despite the fact that a majority of Americans, and a majority of Muslim and Jewish Democrats, favor a permanent ceasefire in Gaza, according to research by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. 

In addition to organizing regular Ramadan programming, Muslim chaplains at American universities continue to be tasked with the challenge of serving and supporting students amidst a tense environment on college campuses. 

A university chaplain on the West Coast, who wishes to remain anonymous out of fear of retribution, says the past few months have been very difficult for students. 

“This has been one of the scariest times on campus,” she says. “It feels reminiscent of post-9/11, and I think that was a pretty broad consensus among a lot of chaplains that I spoke with.” 

“There’s a lot of grief and a lot of helplessness,” she says. “We’re watching what’s going on and we don’t really know what to do…I don’t know how anyone can be okay.”  

She mentioned that her community has implemented increased security measures for months which will continue throughout Ramadan. Students have also been running their own security shifts due to the vitriol on campus. They are also making a concerted effort to avoid walking home alone and in pairs or small groups. 

“There is a heightened level of awareness,” she adds. 

Imam Khalil Abdullah, who is the Muslim chaplain at Princeton University, says he has been intentional about trying to provide students with a safe space and sense of community during these times. He hopes this will continue during Ramadan.

“That’s what Ramadan and our iftars will be,” he adds. “Like big healing circles.” 

He also acknowledges that “different campuses are experiencing Islamophobia in a different way that requires us as chaplains to respond in different ways.”

Maintaining the Ramadan Spirit While Addressing the Suffering in Gaza 

Thasin Sardar from the Islamic Society of Greater Lansing says the community will continue to hold all its regular Ramadan programming.

“The celebratory mood is going to be a little dampened as we continue to grieve over what’s happening in Gaza,” he says, “but the spirit of Ramadan that people at large are used to, we’ll try to keep that as energetic as possible.”

In Dearborn, Michigan, community leaders announced the cancellation of this year’s annual suhoor festival “in light of the ongoing genocide in Palestine.” Suhoor fests typically attract 100,000 visitors from across the U.S. and Canada. They say it feels “inappropriate to celebrate at a time of such gravity.”  

Muslims across the country are continuing their activism and advocacy for Palestine heading into Ramadan. During a Jumu’ah khutbah last week, Dr. Omar Suleiman talked about the importance of keeping the momentum for Gaza, while recognizing that many community members feel that Ramadan this year is not the same because of what’s happening. 

“If Ramadan is a month of worship, is a month of ibadah, what better month to get closer to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) to where our du’a for our brothers and sisters are more impactful,” he says. “What better month to lose your appetite for this dunya if you haven’t lost it over the last five months watching what’s happening in Gaza.” 

 

Related:

From The Chaplain’s Desk: Prep Guide For Ramadan On Campus

Ramadan At The Uyghur Mosque: Community, Prayers, And Grief

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Alhamdulillah, we're at over 850 supporters. Help us get to 900 supporters this month. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

Nada is an Egyptian-American writer based in New Jersey, with bylines in Business Insider, Times Union, The New Arab, and other outlets. She is a Master in Public Affairs candidate at Princeton University’s School of Public and International Affairs. Prior to graduate school, she was a healthcare analyst at Bloomberg and a research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, where she studied racial discrimination in the criminal legal system. Nada was also a Research Assistant at the Wilson Center, where she conducted foreign policy research focusing on the Middle East. She has also been a Policy Fellow at the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and Policy and Communications Intern at the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL). She holds a B.A. in economics with minors in public policy analysis and computer science from Boston University, and is a recipient of the Boston University Departmental Prize in Economics.

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