The root of the word Ramadan means burning, or heat, said Shalim Islam, speaking at Masjid Bilal Ibn Ra’bah, a modest mosque on the city’s West Side.

“And let me tell you, when you’re fasting, you can feel that heat in your body,” he said to the small crowd assembled in the mosque’s prayer room Sunday afternoon.

Islam, a longtime member of the congregation, was speaking about Ramadan to a group of both Muslims and non-Muslims. His lecture was part of the mosque’s monthlytaleem, or educational program.

It is a loosely organized series designed to bring the teachings of Islam to anyone interested, said Imam Omar Shakir, who presides over the mosque’s congregation of about 15 families.

“Anything we can do to help educate the public, we want to do,” said Shakir. The lectures always include a question and answer session. “We want to engage the audience.”

The mosque — masjid is the more proper term, but many congregations in the U.S. use the term mosque because it is more familiar, Shakir said — is named after Bilal Ibn Ra’bah, an Ethiopian who lived in the 6th century and became a loyal companion of the Prophet Mohammed, who tasked Ra’bah with calling the faithful to prayer with his beautiful voice.

Masjid Bilal is a predominantly African American congregation that worships in the traditional Islamic tradition.

African Americans make up about 42 percent of Muslims in the U.S., according to Richard Brent Turner, author of “Islam in the African-American Experience.” There are about 20,000 Muslims in San Antonio.

Shakir embraced Islam at age 16 under the leadership of Imam Warith Deen Muhammed, the son of Elijah Muhammad.

Although his father led the Nation of Islam, which preaches a form of black nationalism, from 1934 until his death in 1975, Deen Muhammed refuted the separatist teachings of the Nation of Islam and aligned his community with mainstream Islam.

“We represent that whole evolution,” said Shakir, who called the Nation of Islam “a type of Islam, a preparation for the true Islam, or orthodox Islam,” that members of Masjid Bilal follow.

Ramadan is an important part of that tradition.

Taking place in the ninth month of the lunar Islamic calendar, Ramadan calls on Muslims to fast from dawn until dusk, “to learn self-restraint and God consciousness,” explained Islam. “It is to help us learn about God, to become more obedient to our creator.” (MORE)


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