Recent events have thrust Islam and the beliefs of the world's 1 billion Muslims into the spotlight, and interest in the faith continues to rise as the holy month of Ramadan approaches this weekend.
But despite this fall's developments in the United States and Afghanistan and a heightened scrutiny of Islam Muslims in Lawrence are looking past the distractions and staying focused on the essential meaning of Ramadan.
"For us as regular students in the United States, Ramadan is just Ramadan," said Husameedin Al-Madani, 21, a Kansas University junior. "It's a good chance to be closer to your religion and to God, to pray more and give to charity. For me, what's happened hasn't affected how I feel about Ramadan or how I fast."
Al-Madani, who is from the holy Islamic city of Medina in Saudi Arabia, will observe the holiday as he always has with prayer, fasting and special meals with friends and family.
The monthlong holiday will begin today. The start is determined by the moon's progress in the lunar cycle, which is the basis of the Muslim calendar.
Al-Madani is social chair of KU's Muslim Student Assn. and helps organize worship and activities at the Islamic Center of Lawrence, 1917 Naismith Drive.
The center is open for prayer every day during the holiday, just as it is the rest of the year. But during Ramadan, there will be six daily prayer times rather than the usual five. The extra prayer is called Taraweeh.
During the monthlong holiday, Muslims will fast from dawn to sunset. The center will have a daily gathering around 5:30 p.m. to break the fast at a meal called Iftar, which typically consists of chicken, rice, vegetables and salad. On an average evening, about 60 people will come together at the center for the meal.
At the end of Ramadan and the start of a new month, Muslims will celebrate eid al-fitr, a major feast day spent with friends and family.
"We'll pray the eid prayer, then we'll gather at the mosque for a big meal," Al-Madani said.
The eid al-fitr celebration is open to the community.
Asma Rehman, a 21-year-old KU junior, plans to spend some of Ramadan in her hometown of Kansas City, Mo.
"Over weekends and the Thanksgiving break, I'll be home as much as possible," she said. "Ramadan is family time. Every night, you're either having food with family, friends or the community."
Many non-Muslims associate the holiday with fasting but don't know much more than that about Ramadan, according to Fouzia Haq, a 20-year-old KU junior from Kansas City, Mo.
"It's not just about the food," she said. "It's remembering who we are and what we stand for. And to be grateful for all the things we have."