By Saadia Faruqi
Source: ABC Religion & Ethics
Last Friday at congregational prayers, I had an eye-opening experience. As I entered my mosque parking lot, I saw two Caucasian women, possibly a mother and daughter, holding up a sign that read, "Please Help, Need Money for Food and Rent." I found it disturbing, even though my hometown of Houston is ridden with poverty and homelessness. So what was wrong with this picture? The mosque I attend is a Pakistani community, with the occasional Indian or Bangladeshi standing out like a sore thumb. Yet here were two white women standing outside practically begging.
What was worse, most of the Muslims attending the Friday prayers ignored the women altogether. When I went inside, I heard several ladies grumbling about the visitors outside. "Who are they? Every year when Ramadan starts people start coming to the mosque to beg. Do we look so gullible?"
It was a small incident, but it affected me deeply. In the evening, my husband asked me about the women, and we had a long conversation about the need for inclusion, not just of Muslims but of the entire community surrounding our mosque during Ramadan. For what is Ramadan but a time for charity, patience and neighbourly love?
I went back and gave the women some money, but more importantly I began an effort within my mosque to encourage an inclusive Ramadan. Some ways I have thought about are opening the mosque to our less fortunate community members, regardless of their faith. We already have free iftar - breaking of the fast - every evening; now the need is to invite everyone to the meal: the needy, the homeless, the white, the black, the immigrant and the sick. Our mosque should never be an exclusive place only for Muslims, and Ramadan should never be just about a group of elite fasting and praying together.
It will take time, but I know my mosque will become more inviting and less exclusive as time goes on. Inshallah, God willing.
Saadia Faruqi is editor of the Interfaith Houston blog and interfaith liaison of the women's group of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. The views expressed in this post are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of Interfaith Houston or the Ahmadiyya Community.