June 28, 2014 at 1:00 am

Metro Detroiters begin fasting, reflection, service projects as part of Ramadan observances

Sarmad Qureshi, 10, stands among men at the Jummah service at the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Center in Rochester Hills on Friday. The service served as the start of the holy month as Muslims across Metro Detroit begin observances. (Photos by Max Ortiz / The Detroit News)

Yumna Alam loves the intense spiritual reflection of Ramadan.

The 19-year-old Canton college student spends the Muslim holy month, which begins today for thousands across Metro Detroit, fasting and avoiding certain activities from dawn to sunset each day.

The period also calls for time to help others through charitable efforts — which becomes even more important as unrest and violence persist in the Middle East.

For this year’s Ramadan, Alam plans to participate in a fundraiser at her mosque aimed at boosting aid efforts in Syria.

Since many Muslims view other believers as units in a single community, “if any one person is in any tribulation, it’s like one part of the body being hurt — the rest of the body feels it, too,” Alam said.

As Ramadan calls for Muslims to consider those in need, efforts to aid others nationally and worldwide are imbued with greater significance.

“Southeast Michigan has direct contacts to communities and individuals in that region and the atrocities, the loss of life, just the terrible pain that’s happening there … impacts individuals and communities here directly,” said Dawood Zwink, executive director of the Michigan Muslim Community Council.

Ramadan arrives as sectarian violence sweeps Iraq and the United Nations’ humanitarian leader said attacks as well as abuses in Syria’s civil war have “devastating consequences for those affected.”

Iraq’s top Shiite cleric stepped up the pressure Friday on politicians to agree on Iraq’s next prime minister, after incumbent Nouri al-Maliki lost the confidence of former allies in the fight against Sunni militants. The appeal comes as al-Maliki is fighting to keep his job, with even key patron Iran exploring alternatives in the face of Iraq’s worst crisis since U.S. troops withdrew at the end of 2011.

The conflict has drawn the Americans back to Iraq with special forces being deployed to help Iraqi troops.

Meanwhile, Valerie Amos, the U.N. humanitarian chief, accused the Syrian government Thursday of imposing “arbitrary restrictions and obstructions” on the delivery of aid and banning lifesaving medical supplies from shipments to opposition-held areas. She also said the number of Syrians in need of humanitarian assistance has increased from 1 million in 2011 to 10.8 million, jumping 1.5 million in just the past six months.

A group of imams with the Michigan Muslim Community Council is trying to ease tensions between Shiite and Sunni Muslims in Metro Detroit after the recent Iraqi clashes. They are reaffirming a unity pact signed in 2007 and this week met to develop a strategy for promoting peace between Sunnis and Shiites.

During Ramadan, Zwink said, “We will definitely be praying for peace and for stability and for our leaders to re-establish the right kind of relations that will give the right kind of stability.”

Through next month, the council is partnering with the nonprofit Zaman International and other groups for the Ramadan Fight Against Hunger food drive, which aims to feed more than 10,000 people statewide.

Life for Relief and Development, a humanitarian charity in Southfield, has emergency campaigns to help displaced citizens in Syria and Iraq, said Mohammed Alomari, its chief operating officer.

Locally, the group plans a soup kitchen in Dearborn, supported by donations, open to anyone in need, Alomari said. Contributions to such efforts increase during Ramadan, he said, since “there is this other spiritual aspect to it. … They get more rewards and blessings during this special month.”

The Michigan chapter of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA seeks more canned goods for an initiative that aims to support the HAVEN women’s shelter in Oakland County, said Mahir Osman, secretary of humanitarian services for the group.

As part of a national campaign, 300-400 items were collected each month through the Ahmadiyya center in Rochester Hills since January, he said. But between this weekend and the end of Ramadan in July, “we hope to double this amount. We’re hoping when people come to the mosque, they’ll bring another item.”

The Associated Press contributed.

Prayers are said at the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community Center at the start of ... (Max Ortiz / The Detroit News)