The holy month of Ramadan began on Tuesday. Ramadan is a time for reflection and spiritual growth, and thousands of Texas Muslims will take part by fasting in the during the day, breaking that fast and praying in the evening.
Muslims are a fast-growing community in the state; there are at least 420,000 Muslims in Texas today.
But Austin-based Imam Islam Mossaad says the community was much smaller when he was growing up in Austin in the late 1970s and ’80s. Mossaad was born in the United States to Egyptian parents who came to the here so his father could pursue his Ph.D. in electrical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin. Back then, the city only had one mosque, started by Muslim UT graduate students who worshiped in a house they had converted. Now the city has 10 mosques, and Mossaad’s congregation, the North Austin Muslim Community Center, has about 2,000 worshipers for Friday prayers.
“Really, our community has probably 80 different countries of origin, including people from right here in the United States, for generations. But we also have a growing number of people who have converted to Islam,” Mossaad told Texas Standard.
There are other signs of the community’s growth. For example, Mossaad says many Texas restaurant and food businesses now offer halal options; some banks offer mortgages that follow Islamic principles; and schools are more willing to recognize Islamic holidays and accommodate Muslim student during those times.
“It’s not about permission to practice your faith. It’s the recognition that you are part of who we are as a society,” Mossaad said.
With growing visibility has also come hard times. When Mossaad was growing up, he says he often felt excluded because of his background.
“Even though my parents came from Egypt, I am from the United States, and people would treat me differently at school,” Mossaad said. “Sometimes when those events would happen, there’s this assumption that, oh, it’s the other and the other is somehow an adversary or an enemy.”
And then there were the 9/11 terror attacks, which Mossaad says led to some “very extreme” instances of retaliation and discrimination against innocent Muslims. But, he says, there were also powerful instances of solidarity.
“We had Christian women come and say, ‘we will walk alongside Muslim women who are wearing the headscarf when they go out in public’ so that nobody would cause them any kind of grief,” Mossaad said. “So there was this tremendous, beautiful spirit of America that also came out right after 9/11.”
He says Muslims also fought against post-9/11 xenophobia by becoming “less insular.” His mosque offered “Muslim 101” classes to anyone who was interested. The intent was to take the “mystique” out of the mosque, he says, at a time when Islamophobia was rampant.
This Ramadan, Mossaad will take part in the internal reflection that is a central aspect of the holiday. It’s a time when he says he often gets spiritual epiphanies. Some worshipers even sequester themselves in the mosque during the last 10 days of Ramadan to go deeper with their spiritual practice.
“After those 10 days are over, they come out into the world again and they engage the world,” Mossaad said. “And that’s really the spirit of Islam: it has an internal dimension, but then it has the dimension of trying to bring good into the world around us with effort and with struggle.”