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A day before the holy month of Ramadan begins, Nabintou Doumbia worked at what she and other Muslims across Metro Detroit often pursue throughout their most sacred time: helping out.

As part of the annual Ramadan Fight Against Hunger effort the Michigan Muslim Community Council leads, the Detroit teen spent hours Wednesday at the nonprofit Forgotten Harvest’s Oak Park site, carefully packing into boxes food intended for people in need.

That fulfilled a pillar of Islam — charitable acts — and countered persistent, often negative, perceptions of her faith impacted by extremism.

“Ramadan is one of the best months for a lot of people to see what us as Muslims are about,” she said. “A lot of the ways that we are portrayed … is the complete opposite or the spectrum of the extreme. This is going to be a great month of seeing us in a different light. It’ll show how sincere we truly are.”

Heeding tradition while also interacting in the community inspires many Muslims in the region as they mark Ramadan, which officially starts Thursday.

Through mid-July, adherents abstain daily from food and drink between sunrise and sunset; frequently pray at mosques; read the Quran, or holy text; and stress charitable efforts.

“This is the greatest month in the Islamic calendar,” said Imam Momodou Ceesay at the Muslim Center in Detroit.

The month arrives as the Council on American-Islamic Relations notes “an unprecedented rise in anti-Islam rhetoric in American society and the subsequent increase in hate incidents targeting Muslims.”

“We as American Muslims and also Muslims in Michigan have seen an increase of Islamophobia in our country,” said Dawud Walid, executive director of CAIR-MI. “These are trying times for Muslims in America both from a religious perspective as well as through the lens of race relations. We have to continue to be steadfast in cultivating community life and reaching out to our fellow Americans in goodwill.”

To that end, some Muslims are stepping up and speaking out.

Besides ongoing donation efforts, the area chapter of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA also plans an open house at its Rochester Hills mosque this month. Members also are set to head a booth at a local festival, distributing free flags, balloons and fliers explaining “how we as Muslim are taught by our faith to be loyal to our nations,” public affairs secretary Mahir Osman said. Then, on July 4, they expect to march in Clawson’s Independence Day parade.

“It’s very important not just to show our American brethren that we too are patriotic Americans, that we are living in this nation and we have love for this nation — to show the enemy that we are peaceful individuals and we will not allow them to hijack our faith,” Osman said.

Raza Qadir, 20, of Bloomfield Hills is eager to participate. “When we have all these conflicts going on around the world, a lot of times I hear from other people: ‘Why aren’t more Muslims speaking out?’ To oppose that, I think it’s our duty to speak up,” he said. “I know that not everyone is willing to listen. All we can do is try to educate as much as we can and hope people have an open enough mind to listen to what we have to say.”

Meanwhile, during some of the year’s hottest days and nights, worshipers can fast as long as 15 hours. Though challenging, self-restraint yields spiritual gains, Ceesay said. “At the end of Ramadan you feel good, you feel hope and your hope is high.”

The fast traditionally ends each evening with an iftar, or special meal — some at mosques where the community is invited.

To fill out the feasts, some stores extend their hours. Masri Sweets in Dearborn is open after midnight to field orders for baklava, cream-filled desserts and assorted other treats customers crave, manager Imad Mohamad said. “In the night, people start coming in the store.”

Ramadan also allows for inner reflection and setting goals. Besides volunteering, Nushrat Rahman of Detroit hopes to read the Quran more, improve her relationships and eat healthier. “Hopefully by the end of the month I’ll be able to meet those goals,” she said. “I feel like it’s a perfect time to reflect and refresh my life.”

mhicks@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2117

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