Millions of Muslims around the world are refraining from eating and drinking during sunlight hours in observance of Ramadan, which began Tuesday, April 13. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which is based on lunar cycles. 

To broaden the Oak Park community’s cultural awareness, Oak Park’s main library is showcasing Islamic artwork, prayer rugs and prayer beads in its Idea Box. The display, just inside the front door, is titled “Ramadan & Islam Around the World.” It also features traditional dresses from Iraq, India, Pakistan and Palestine, among other countries.

Curated by Oak Parker Dima Ali with the assistance of Juanta Griffin, the library’s multicultural learning coordinator, the display is meant to educate people.

“There is a small Muslim community in Oak Park and Muslims come from all over the world,” said Ali. “Muslim does not mean you’re Arab and Arab does not mean you’re Muslim. There are Indians who happen to be Muslim – Pakistani, Black people can be Muslim.”

 Much of what is on display comes from Ali’s personal collection, including most of the dresses, which Ali brought with her when she left her native Iraq 20 years ago. Ali also created the artwork on display. The rest was donated by other members of Oak Park’s Muslim community. 

The display will be available for viewing throughout the entire month of Ramadan, a period of introspection, prayer and self-improvement. 

With the sighting of the new crescent moon, Ramadan begins and fasting commences. Those who fast in observance of Ramadan abstain from eating and drinking between sunrise and sunset throughout the entire month – a humbling experience, according to Ali.

“It’s going to make you feel the hunger and thirst and pain of the needy person in your community,” said Ali. “It gives you an idea about what people go through and prompts you to do better.”

The hardest part of fasting for her is not being able to drink caffeinated beverages. 

A month of worship, Ramadan also serves as a time for families to join in celebration, breaking fast together nightly. 

“Traditionally in our house, we do almost like a Thanksgiving feast every night,” said Ali.

The month ends and the fasting concludes, as they both started, with the sighting of the new crescent moon. This year, that is expected to occur May 13. A three-day celebration called Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan.

“It’s a tradition I love, and it reminds me of home,” said Ali.

Ali described fasting as a “personal choice.” 

“The general rule is that if you’re able,” said Ali. “You should if you can, but if you can’t, it’s fine.”

Expecting and breastfeeding mothers, people who are sick or traveling, children who haven’t hit puberty and those who simply can’t fast have dispensation, according to Ali. 

“In each and every religion, there’s some sort of version of fasting,” said Ali. “So, in Islam, there’s Ramadan.”

And although Oak Park boasts numerous places of worship, the village does not have a mosque. Being Muslim in Oak Park, Ali calls being part of an “invisible minority.”

“I took it upon myself to be the face of my faith,” said Ali. “I am culturally Muslim; I’m not very religious.”

Ali hosts workshops to teach people about Arabs and Muslims in the United States. 

“Often in America in general, we are looked at as terrorists,” said Ali. “The media paint you this way, community members paint you this way, government officials paint you this way. And this is far from true.”

Through education, Ali aims to dispel such myths and widen consciousness.

“We go through so much microaggression and misrepresentation,” said Ali.

She has offered her teaching services to schools in Oak Park, as well as workplaces and community groups. Her sessions include age-appropriate materials tailored for each audience. 

“I believe ignorance is the enemy,” said Ali.

Ramadan coincides with April, which is National Arab American Heritage Month – a perfect opportunity for increased cultural awareness and education. Ali believes her exhibition may be the first library display to teach Oak Parkers about Ramadan. 

She hopes it’ll become an event held annually at the library. Ali is proud of her activism and education efforts in Oak Park, where she and her family have lived for about 11 years. 

“I would not wish to live somewhere where I do the work and the labor but Oak Park,” said Ali. “Oak Park is home for me.”

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