Area residents observing Ramadan

Mar. 31—Mankato Area Public School's Supt. Paul Peterson said the district's calendar committee kept in mind students who observe Ramadan when they made two-year plans for class days.

"For the first time, our schedule will reflect the holiday Eid," Peterson said.

Students in the district do not have to report to class April 21, this year's date for the Muslim religious festival Eid ul Fitr. The celebration marks the end of Ramadan, a monthlong observance that this year began March 22.

Mankato is home to three mosques that serve various orders of the Muslim faith. Many of these worshippers are immigrants from foreign countries.

Abdi Sabrie, a founder and a board member of the Mankato Islamic Center, said that in the past, evening meals have been served at his mosque during Ramadan. Health concerns about spreading COVID have prompted the continued prohibition of community suppers.

Islamic Center members do meet for nightly prayers at the center, Sabrie said.

Members of Wisdom House in Mankato are partnering with other Muslims around the state and the Minnesota Council of Churches to offer public events to promote conversations about Minnesotans' varied worship practices and cultures.

"These events started a few years after 9/11 in response to the rise in Islamophobia," said Taking Heart organizer Cynthia Bronson Sweigert. She said the partnership's events feature community prayers and evening meals served in mosques.

A public iftar is slated 7:15 p.m. Saturday at Wisdom House. There is no fee for the meal; registration is required.

Hanan Jordan is a Maryland resident who plans to attend the catered meal, which will be served soon after dusk Saturday at Wisdom House.

"I will be wearing a scarf to cover my hair," she said, offering a recommendation for visitors who want to follow mosque etiquette.

Jordan is in town to be at the side of her father, who is ill. People who are sick are not required to fast, and neither are pregnant women, she said.

"They may, however, be expected to provide food for other people."

School Sisters of Notre Dame member Dorothy Zeller attended her first iftar at Wisdom House last year.

"It was wonderful. It helped me better understand their (Muslim) prayers, fasting, as well as their men and the culture," Zeller said.

She found the food served was good tasting and familiar to her palate.

"There were a number of choices, though nothing was as different (tasting) as I expected."

Saturday night Zeller will be accompanied by a Good Counsel Learning Center coworker and two SSND sisters who grew up in Vietnam.

"It's open to all persons who want to share in community and prayer," she said.

A recent funeral in St. Peter offered an example of two religious faiths being practiced separately but cooperatively. Thanks to community efforts to promote understanding between residents, the Lutheran widower did not take offense at the absence of his Muslim friends at a post-services gathering in his church's basement.

Some St. Peter residents who were born in Somalia attended the memorial for Bill Nelsen's wife, Margie. Others phoned or sent cards to express sympathy. However, they declined the church's invitation to sit down and have a cup of coffee, a sandwich and dessert.

"Bill knew we were fasting when we said we are sorry, but we cannot eat lunch with you," said Mohamed Abdulkadir, of St. Peter.

Throughout Ramadan, Abdulkadir — along with his wife, their children and other Muslims throughout the world — have been abstaining from food and drink daily between sunrise and sunset.

"Fasting is the fourth pillar of Islam," said Abdulkadir, explaining one of five key practices that form the foundation of Muslim life.

"We just have to be sensitive to such things," said Nelsen, who shares with Abdulkadir the co-presidential duties on the local diversity council.

St. Peter Good Neighbor Diversity Council is the town's way to encourage positive interactions between longtime residents and people of color who are newcomers in a town, a steadily increasing percentage of the population.

"I have learned so much from Bill and from other members of the community. We are learning to build bridges that support each other," said Abdulkadir, as he recalled the 15 years he's lived in St. Peter.

In recent years, Muslims have been able to attend a mosque in a rented space in St. Peter.

Abdulkadir, who serves as a mosque spokesperson, said about 100 worshippers attend regularly. They hope to someday own a building in St. Peter where they can pray together.

The diversity council has promoted outdoor gatherings where St. Peterites may get to know each other. The town's mosque does open its doors to all who care to worship there, but no special public events are planned during the remaining weeks of Ramadan.

Both Mankato and St. Peter's mosques reach out to international college students who want to observe Ramadan within a Muslim community. In recent years, during the peak of the pandemic, the Islamic Center helped arrange for food deliveries to Minnesota State University students around dusk.