Today Tasneem Shamim will begin her monthlong fast from sunrise until sunset for
the holy month of Ramadan.
But for Muslims such as Shamim and Yaser ElMenshawy, the holy month that begins this week is more than just a time for
fasting. It is a month of prayer and contemplation and a time to do good deeds.
Ramadan, the month of community, is the third of the holy months, following the month of God and the month of
the prophet, said Shamim, an ophthalmologist who is also the president and a founding member of the Muslim Women's Coalition,
based in the Somerset section of Franklin.
|AUGUSTO F. MENEZES/Staff photographer|
|Tasneem Shamim, at her Somerset office, will join other Muslims throughout the world in their annual monthlong
observance of the holy month of Ramadan today.|
During those first two holy months, Muslims fast voluntarily, but during Ramadan, that fast -- from sunrise until sunset
-- is obligatory, said Shamim, 47, who said she tries to fast on Mondays and Thursdays in the two months leading up to Ramadan.
"It's like a spiritual rejuvenation people go through each year," she said. "It's not just not eating that is important.
It's just making sure that during the day, you try to improve yourself spiritually."
This year during Ramadan, she will be talking to others about her religion while learning about Christianity and Judaism.
She is among the Muslims, Christians and Jews who study the prophets at a Short Hills church once a week.
They work with an Episcopal priest and read from the Bible, Torah and Quran. Classes began last week. While the program
has been around for 25 years, this year is the first time that a Muslim group was invited to attend, she said.
"We read all three scriptures to find out how much more we have in common, rather than not in common," she said.
The holy month of Ramadan begins with the crescent of the new moon, but the day that observances begin depends on the criteria
a Muslim follows when deciding a new moon was sighted.
Some go by what is considered an international sighting, while others wait until it is seen locally. This year Muslims
are expected to begin observances either today or tomorrow.
ElMenshawy said Muslims fast and spend more time reading and reciting the Quran during Ramadan, and while many Muslims
go to their mosques every day year-round, many more will go daily during Ramadan.
But it is also the month when God gives people the opportunity to do more good in the world, said ElMenshawy, a Flemington
resident who is the chairman of the Council of Mosques and Islamic Organizations of New Jersey, based in Newark.
"And that's important, because in Islam, everybody's life in general is really a test, and you're going to get -- in a
sense -- get judged for how you did," he said. "And this is your opportunity to get more merits or credits, as opposed to
demerits. You do good deeds and earn God's grace for when you need it."
Ramadan is also the month that Zakat is due, sort of like an April 15 tax day for Muslims, said Shamim, laughing a bit.
Zakat requires Muslims to pay to the poor 2.5 percent of their excess earnings or holdings. They do not calculate it on
their homes, but on things like jewelry, extra savings and paintings, she said.
"The theory is if everybody paid the Zakat, then there would be no poverty in the world," she said.
During Ramadan the Muslim Women's Coalition starts gearing up for its toy drive, in which they distribute gifts to needy
children in December.
"Ramadan is a good time to gather all the Zakat money for the projects too," she said. "This is a good month, where the
Her group (which also has chapters in Washington and Texas) started an adopt-a-grandparent program and also serves up food
at the Elijah's Promise soup kitchen in New Brunswick.
Members have sent X-ray and mammogram machines to the Philippines, and want to get teens in American to adopt a classroom
there because sometimes schools do not have enough books or any bathrooms.
A few years ago, during Ramadan, the women's group helped organize a drive in which some local children collected money
to buy flannel pajamas for the residents of a Franklin nursing home. Then the youngsters spent a few hours at the home, delivering
their gifts and visiting with residents.
"These are all the little things we can do to make the community better, and to build bridges between the community," Shamim
said. "Here, we get so angry with the few Muslims who do such terrible things in the name of Islam. We're going to try to
reclaim Islam for what it is, a religion of peace and submitting to the will of God."