The ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, Ramadan, marks a special occasion for Muslims. The holiday celebrates the descent of the Quran, the word of God, from heaven to the earth.

On behalf of the American Jewish Committee's (AJC) Circle of Friends, a Muslim-Jewish dialogue group, we wish all of our Muslim brothers and sisters a Ramadan Mubarak.

The Circle of Friends meets regularly to dialogue on issues of common interest; to develop friendships; and to engage in social activities, civic programs, and advocacy for one another. Since our group - now about 30 members - has developed since its founding last year, we have learned that we have so many things in common.

During the Ramadan season, which begins this week, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. Especially in the summer, this makes for a very long day. Each day ends with an iftar meal - a break-the-fast that includes study and prayer.

But Ramadan is more than abstaining from food and water during the daylight hours. It is a time for introspection, sanctification, and tribute to God, particularly through the reading or recitation of the Quran. Muslims believe that the gates of heaven open wider than ever during this special season.

Taking the welfare of the less fortunate members of the community into consideration and giving to the poor are also components of the Ramadan holiday. In the United States, many invitations are extended to non-Muslims to attend and participate in iftar meals.

Last year I helped prepare an iftar for members of the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, group that I participate in. It was an act of friendship and respect by Jewish sisters for those observing the Ramadan holiday. The Jewish sisters cooked the meal, which we all enjoyed together after sunset. We broke bread and shared the meaning of our faith traditions.

Ramadan provides our community with an opportunity to build multicultural bridges. At a time when distrust of others is creating tension, Ramadan is one month that inspires compassion for those who might be fasting and to them we extend a smile or a kind word. It's amazing how quickly a smile can banish fear and build kindness and gratitude.

The freedom to practice whatever faith we choose, and reflect and grow our humanity, are treasured American values for everyone. And this should never be taken for granted.

Marcia Bronstein is regional director of the American Jewish Committee Philadelphia.

This article was originally published in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

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