Throughout the month of Ramadan, Muslims fast, aim to do good deeds and try their best to return to their roots and religion as much as possible. However, even within the month itself, the last 10 nights are an extremely special time. One of these nights, in the Islamic tradition, is said to be Laylat-ul-Qadr, the night of destiny. During this night, everyone’s destiny for the year is decided upon. Furthermore, the night is said to be worth 1,000 months, or roughly 83 years, in terms of good deeds. Therefore, many Muslims spend the last 10 nights “searching” for the night of destiny and spending their nights in worship, prayer and remembrance.
Due to these beliefs, a specific tradition arose known as I’tikaf. During I’tikaf, Muslims make a vow to stay in a mosque and avoid outside interactions with the world as much as possible. This year was the second I’tikaf of my life. Though cut short by the flu, I still had the pleasure to spend six days living in the mosque, and during this time was able to increase my knowledge of Islam, meet countless other Muslims, and truly participate and observe the unique interactions and connections that make up the Muslim community in Jacksonville.
The Muslims of Jacksonville are an extremely diverse group. Among the hundreds who come to the mosque during Ramadan, you can find diversity is hard to find almost anywhere else with individuals from Senegal, Sudan, Ivory Coast, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey, Colombia, Guyana and many other countries all uniting under a single belief. In these 10 ten nights, there is a unique familial air where everyone is especially kind, willing to give their time and effort to help each other, and constantly prepare for a nice long conversation full of reflection, wisdom and laughs.
This isn’t the case everywhere. Having grown up in Michigan in an area with an extremely large Muslim population, I know not all communities are this warm, welcoming and tight-knit. That’s why I’m so certain that Jacksonville has something special. The Muslim community here loves each other in a way that is truly rare.
I’m not sure where I’ll be one year from now. Maybe somewhere else in Florida or another state or another country. Maybe I won’t be alive. But these 10 nights are something I cherish and look forward to every year. Of course, I’tikaf, getting back to my religion, and reentering myself is a major part in this. But the bonds of the community and the time spent with them are another big reason. Jacksonville and the Islamic Center of Northeast Florida (ICNEF) have a beautiful community with people from all over the world in which one can try other cultures’ foods, learn about their clothing, hear their languages spoken and get a feel for their people. No matter where I am next Ramadan, however, I know I’ll be thinking about the nights I’ve spent in ICNEF, surrounded by brothers who genuinely love each other, love their religion and are truly grateful for everything that has brought them to that moment.
Ramadan is now over, but I highly recommend that next Ramadan, everyone who can should try to visit ICNEF for at least one of the last 10 nights of the month. There’s free dinner at sunset, plenty of good company and lots of fun to be had. It’s a great opportunity to learn about the Muslim community of Jacksonville and experience a unique blend of cultures in one place.