ST. LOUIS — For the first time in St. Louis’ history, City Hall was host to Muslims across the region breaking their fast during the holy month of Ramadan.
The official recognition of the celebration meant a lot to St. Louis Muslims, said Donnel Malik Sims, a member of the Islamic Foundation of Greater St. Louis and one of about 100 people in attendance, including elected officials and representatives of more than 16 mosques in the St. Louis area.
“It means we’re welcome,” Sims said. “St. Louis is a place where we can grow and build together as part of a diverse community, and we’re all stronger for that.”
The dinner Tuesday was hosted by the 21st Ward Alderman John Collins-Muhammad and the Missouri chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Collins-Muhammad sponsored a resolution the St. Louis Board of Alderman adopted in May 2017 that officially recognized Ramadan, a holy month of fasting and spiritual renewal.
During the month, Muslims abstain from eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset as an act of worship and to remind themselves of the sufferings of the less fortunate. Muslims are encouraged to also increase their prayers, acts of charity and good will, and to reflect on their character and spiritual life.
Ramadan began Sunday and lasts through June 4. The religious celebration of Eid-Al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan. Muslims in the St. Louis area will fast an average of about 15 hours each day during the month.
The first officially iftar dinner in the U.S. was in 1805, when Thomas Jefferson hosted a Tunisian envoy celebrating Ramadan for a dinner at the White House. Tuesday’s event followed in that tradition, said Faizan Syed, executive director of of the Missouri chapter of the council.
“It’s an opportunity for people of all faiths and backgrounds to come together,” Syed said.
Mayor Lyda Krewson, Board of Alderman President Lewis Reed and Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner also attended the dinner. They and other guests who spoke publicly often greeted the crowd with the Arabic phrase, “Ramadan Mubarak,” which translates roughly to “blessed Ramadan.”
Collins-Muhammad greeted attendees with the Arabic phrase used by Muslims as a salutation, ‘assalamualaikum,’ meaning “peace be upon you.”
He said Ramadan was a time for Muslims to not only reflect on their own lives, but to take measure of the conditions of their communities and seek to better them.
“We all have a role to play,” he said.
The iftar, or breaking of the fast, occurs at the moment the sun sets. In St. Louis, the iftar was about 7:59 p.m. Tuesday and will move to about 8:22 p.m. by June 3. Attendees Tuesday broke their fast with dates and water before holding a group prayer. Afterward, they sat down for a full meal, provided through donations by a number of local families.
St. Louis’ recognition of Ramadan and its hosting of the iftar dinner also came at a time when Muslim-Americans are experiencing feelings of increased hostility toward their communities, said Saad Amir with Muslims for a Better America, a local advocacy group. He encouraged attendees to invite St. Louisans of other faiths to their iftar dinners at home to counteract negative stereotypes and help build community ties.
“It’s our responsibility to change the status quo,” he said.
Area Muslims have been among other local faith communities rallying together in recent weeks after attacks in the U.S. and around the world on houses of worship during holy days. Shiek Todd Irons-El, grand shiek of the Moorish Science Temple of America in St. Louis, asked attendees to fight against “constraints” meant to “keep us divided.”
“Let’s work together as one community,” he said.