Ruiz, who converted nearly 10 years ago, is a lawyer for CAIR and executive director of the American Muslims for Emergency and Relief. He attends Masjid Miami Gardens and the Islamic Center of South Florida in Pompano Beach with his wife and two twin children.
Ruiz blogs on the Islamic world, the Middle East and international policy. He frequently appears on television programs and writes for various publications as an expert on Christian-Muslim relations.
Kanar found her way to Islam after friends in Miami introduced her to Muslims from Syria and Saudia Arabia. They told her about the Quran, the sacred text of Islam. Kanar began reading and was drawn to the writings of the Prophet Mohammed. She went to her first Ramadan service in 1977 and converted to Islam eight years later in Syria.
“My mother was devastated,” said Kanar, whose mother hadn’t come to terms with her conversion until she married and had children. “It was a way of life that I acquired.”
Kanar, a purchasing agent for AAR Landing Gear Services in Miami Lakes, met her husband, Ahmet, who grew up in Istanbul, after she converted. They have three grown children and have been attending Masjid Miami Gardens since it opened in the early 1990s. The Kanars and Ruizes are part of about 10 to 15 Hispanic Muslim families in the congregation, many of them Cubans, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Columbians and Peruvians, she said. Many are women who married into the faith.
“Hispanic culture is more similar to the Muslims’ culture than it is to American culture,” she said.
This year, Ramadan 1433 begins Friday and ends the evening of Aug. 18. The dates of Ramadan change yearly, as it is based on the new moon. Ramadan celebrates the angel Gabriel’s visits to Mohammed.
Ramadan includes two other holy days within the month: Laylat al Qadr, and Eid ul-Fitr. Laylat al Qadr, or Night of Power, marks when the Quran was first revealed to Mohammed, and falls in the third week of the month. Eid ul-Fitr, or the Festival of Breaking Fast, celebrates the end of the monthlong period of fasting and spiritual rebirth.
Dr. Amanullah De Sondy, a professor of Islamic studies at the University of Miami, says many Muslims can be found fasting, coming together to celebrate the fast with the community and frequenting the mosque during the month of Ramadan.
“Globally it’s very much a family affair,” De Sondy said.
Worldwide, De Sondy says there is a growing interest in Islam. The current global Muslim population is 1.6 billion, the world’s second-largest religion after Christianity. Within the next 20 years, projections call for 2.2 billion Muslims by 2030. Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the world.
“We’re constantly bombarded with negative images of Islam,” De Sondy said. “When you scratch below the surface, you see a human face.”
Although it took eight years for Kanar to cover herself with the hijab, or head scarf, she and her family fully participate in the rituals of Ramadan. They pray at the mosque every night and read chapters from the Quran. They plan on celebrating Eid with morning prayer, visiting with friends and a picnic in the park.
“Islam is something that comes from within,” Kanar said. “It’s a religion between myself and God.”