Hyde Park leader prepares for Muslim community’s observance of Ramadan

Staff Writer

Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of reflection and daytime fasting, begins at sundown tonight, but Khateeb Omar Muhammad, whose title, Khateeb, means “lecturer” in Arabic, is taking the demands of his work at the Kenwood Masjid Al-Faatir mosque, 1200 E. 47th St., in stride.

“I’ve been fasting since I was 5! It doesn’t affect me like that,” he said.

Rather than eat, Muhammad said he wishes he could sleep during the day, but, of course, the demands of his job prevent this. The mosque, which is always open for the five daily prayers, expands its hours during Ramadan, and the Koran is recited sequentially in its 30 divisions after evening prayers every night of the month.

A Hyde Park native, Muhammad was raised in a Muslim household and graduated from the Imam Muhammad in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in 1991. “It is an obligation that kind of was put before me,” he said of his work. “I felt it was more duty than calling to serve Chicago Muslims, lead prayer and disseminate Islamic knowledge.” He has served at Masjid Al-Faatir since 1993. The mosque opened in 1983 and has roughly 500 congregants of 72 different nationalities.

Rather than Sunni or Shia, Muhammad called Masjid Al-Faatir’s orientation “orthodox” and said it is open to anyone identifying as a Muslim. He calls the mosque an “Islamic sanctuary,” a place to get away from everyday life and focus on the faith. Their focus on those either practicing or interested in conversion to Islam limits neighborhood inter-faith involvement, Muhammad said, but he happily noted that their neighbors have left notes of appreciation from time to time at the mosque. “We hope to be as accommodating to them as they are to us,” he said.

“You never finish learning under Islam,” said Muhammad. “We are here to be tested as far as how we live our lives.” Taking a moment to reflect, he said that, in addition to sleep, observing Ramadan makes him crave forgiveness more than anything else.