Themes of justice, compassion and generosity resounded at the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh on Sunday night, the seventh night of the holy Islamic month of Ramadan.
ICP, the largest mosque in Pittsburgh, drew 400 attendees Sunday from inside and outside the Muslim community for Humanity Day, an event that celebrates Pittsburgh's diversity and showcases the work of individuals who have contributed notably to the city. Awards were presented to people "who have demonstrated an extraordinary amount of compassion, concern or understanding in building bridges between Pittsburghers and the Muslim community," said Julie Webb, outreach coordinator at ICP.
Humanity Day has been held by ICP for more than a decade and honors the Islamic emphasis on intercultural understanding, according to community members. "The Quran says God created different tribes so people can get to know each other," said Noor Un Nahar, from Upper St. Clair, a former ICP board member.
Each year's Humanity Day is celebrated during Ramadan, the holy month when Muslims fast from sunrise to sundown and focus on strengthening their relationship with God.
But speakers stressed that the significance of Ramadan goes well beyond fasting and Quran study. "Ramadan is about thinking about others," said Sheikh Atef Mahgoub, religious director at ICP.
"Ramadan is a time to remind ourselves of two truths: We are all one humanity ... and compassion should be the basis of our lives," said Ihsan Bagby, professor of Islamic studies at the University of Kentucky.
In line with both of these themes, the focus of this year's Humanity Day awards was on individuals who have worked to provide support and resources to new Muslim immigrants.
Leslie Aizenman, director of refugee services at Jewish Family and Children's Service of Pittsburgh, was honored for her organization's work aiding refugees settling in Pittsburgh, many of them from Iraq.
Also recognized were individuals whose work has brought increased understanding of anti-Muslim discrimination in the United States post-9/11.
Among award recipients was Scilla Wahrhaftig, who has worked for more than a decade speaking out against Islamophobia and raising awareness of the human costs of the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
ICP's recognition "is one of the most moving awards I've ever received," Ms. Wahrhaftig said.
She stressed "the need for all of us to counter anti-Muslim hatred in the U.S.," adding that "Pittsburgh is fortunately comparatively free of Islamophobia compared to other U.S. cities."
The need for justice in wider society reverberated in the speeches of many speakers Sunday night. Many discussed the salience of Saturday's acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin to Ramadan's theme of justice. "In the wake of the Trayvon Martin verdict, the racism that exists in this country still needs to be addressed," Mr. Bagby said.
Award presentations were followed by Maghrib, the Islamic evening prayer after sunset, and Iftar, the fast-breaking meal eaten by Muslims each night of Ramadan. Community members welcomed questions about Islamic belief and practice over the Iftar meal.
For Elaine Linn, from Forest Hills, an active member of ICP, Humanity Day represented the spirit of the month of Ramadan.
"Justice is the biggest thing that's taught in the Quran ... the idea of experiencing how other people suffer, giving and thinking of other people during Ramadan, getting our priorities right -- the people honored Sunday do exactly that every day. This was like Ramadan in action," she said.
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