New Muslim Family Readies for Ramadan
From Hernando Today
Hernando Today correspondent
Published: Sep 7, 2007
Marwa McElmurry is a young Egyptian woman who recently married an Irish-American, a former Baptist from South Carolina. Continents and worlds apart, they met two years ago, courting in cyberspace over the Internet.
He flew to Alexandria, Egypt to marry her.
Six months later, she flew to America to live in Spring Hill.
Marwa and her family are Muslims. As of 1996, so is her husband, Lance. They just had their first child, Adam, born only 10 weeks ago.
Marwa’s mother is visiting from Egypt, and is meeting Marwa’s American in-laws.
The family is preparing for Ramadan, the annual month-long Islamic holy season that begins this year at sundown Wednesday, Sept. 12. Fasting is observed from sunrise to sunset each day.
How will the in-laws all adjust to each other and celebrate this most holy season on the Islamic calendar?
“It’ll be easy enough,” Lance McElmurry said. “My mother wishes we had the same religion, yet she is glad that we agree that everything comes from the one God. Christianity, Judaism and Islam do share the same roots in history, and also some of the same dietary observances and practices. We will learn, respectfully, with love.”
Raised in Alexandria, a cosmopolitan seaside city of all faiths for some 8 million people, Marwa was famous in her local public school for earning high scholastic marks, and as a female for mastering Tae Kwan Doe and handball at the local gym.
She commented about the flexibilities of Egyptian life, and the Muslim beliefs and observances there: “In Islam, alcohol and pork are not allowed, yet in some of the restaurants there, a non-Muslim can be served alcohol. It’s your choice as to what you believe and what you choose to observe.
As a Muslim, as a girl and then young woman, I would cover my head and myself in observance of God’s commands regarding clothing, including if I were outside our home certainly. And I must say that people here treat me with so much re-spect in Florida, my new home. Sometimes I am even asked about adding flowers or adornment to the Hijabs — headscarves — I wear, or where I find my long skirts and jewelry. I do like organzas, denim and turquoise and silver.”
For some spices and select cooking ingredients, she travels to stores in Tampa and Clearwater that serve Muslim dietary needs. Lance pointed out that those shops have gelatin made from beef or animals other than pork.
“I learned to like lamb and goat,” said Lance. “Sometimes we have special beans for breakfast, along with scrambled eggs. Marwa is a fabulous cook. Sugar and sweets are bad for people anyway, so I gave up eating the junk foods. She was surprised to discover that I ate so many sweets. We rarely dine out here, because food workers and restaurant kitchens may cross-contaminate with pork products. For example, the ham may be sliced on the same tray that will later hold the roast beef.”
The McElmurry home has a Mediterranean décor from. The dining area and serving dishes show a love of Egypt-ian and Islamic traditions, emphasizing gracious hospitality and homemaking. Marwa grows fresh mint in her kitchen and delights in snipping of its fragrant leaves and tendrils to swirl in tea. Lance framed an embroidered prayer garment done in silver and gold threads to give as a gift. He also did elaborate scroll cutting to create a wall piece made from a round of brushed aluminum that features an Islamic Arabic. Sconces and ceramic pieces evoke Marwa’s native culture as much as her cooking, demeanor and clothing.
Asked for a favorite quote from the Qur’an, Marwa chose Qur’an surah 2:154: “There is no God save Him, the Alive, the Eternal. Neither slumber nor sleep overtaketh Him. Onto Him belongeth whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth. Who is he that intercedeth with Him save by his leave? He knoweth what is in front of them and that which is behind them, while they encompass nothing of His knowledge save that He will. His throne includeth the heavens and the earth, and He is never weary of preserving them. He is the Sublime, the Tremendous.”
Lance has some long tunics he often wears, although his usual garb for work is a shirt with slacks; he owns and operates Custom Computer Repair and Net-working LLC, located on Deltona Boulevard. “I configure networking for homes and businesses,” he explain-ed, “and I work with a lot of local doctors and clinics.”
His technical training stems from working in aviation electronics. He likes to point out that he is an American patriot, having served 10 years and been decorated in the U.S. Air Force, overseas and in America. He was stationed in Germany and deployed to Bosnia in support of Operation Joint Endeavor. He also served as the Muslim chaplain upon return to Fort Campbell, Ky.
How did Lance McElmurry become a Muslim? He had some friends who were Muslim when he served in Germany and Bosnia. Ever questing for religious truth, he read the Qur’an and found it to embrace many of the beliefs he already had. He especially values Islamic teachings to be compassionate, charitable, serene, holistic in health and diet and respectful toward women. Later, in his Internet explorations, he began a friendship and then a courtship with Marwa.
The McElmurrys plan to raise their son, Adam, in a disciplined yet loving way to encourage his imagination and creativity.
“Adam won’t be watching television unless it’s wholesome and educational,” Lance said. His father likes the “Star Trek” series but mostly watches educational television and learning channels such as DIY, Dis-covery and science programs. Marwa likes romantic movies, and says that her husband is the person she most enjoys for his gentle company and helpful parenting. “I knew from his emails he would be an ideal family man, I could tell,” she said, “and of course he is Muslim, or I wouldn’t even have considered being interested in him.”
For Adam, his father said, Xboxes and computer games will have to wait until he’s grown.
“He will work on projects with us, and make things that spark his imagination. Too many children in today’s world don’t run and play and read and have meaningful conversations with adults and other children. There is too much materialism. If we give gifts, it is not because some national calendar or business tradition or advertising suggests it. We give spontaneously, from the heart. We don’t celebrate big birthdays per se, although we do have a ceremony after a child is born, and some other milestones in Islamic life.”
For information about local Islamic schedules, visit the Web site: http://www.hernandomasjid.com or call 596 – 2311. The Brooksville mosque is located at 6073 Barclay Road, Brooksville.
MORE ABOUT ISLAM
Dr. Alden Eldin, an Egyptian-born, local cardiologist and Islamic spokesman, respects the female roles in families, as his faith outlines. He and his wife Gadha visited Egypt in July. Both are eager for the local visit by Dr. Ingrid Mattson, noted Harvard professor and theologian. in October.
Dr. Mattson is a Canadian who converted to Islam, and is presently giving a speaking tour as president of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA.) The local speaking schedule and reception following are “in the works still,” Eldin said.
In explaining a little about Islam, Dr. Eldin’s daughter, Sara, 11, is quoted from a school essay she wrote: “Prayer is an extremely important part of the Islamic religion. These are the steps for praying: First, we put our hands upon our ears and say, ‘God is great.’ ‘Then we say verses from the Qur’an. When you’re finished, you bend from the waist and touch your knees with your hands. Then we bow down and say, ‘God is great.’ (And) we use a prayer code or pattern…two Rakas (prayers) in the morning, four in the afternoon, more before and at sunset, and the last at night, called Fajr, Zhuhur, Asr, Maghrib and Isah. They are hard to pronounce but these are their names.
“During Ramadan when we fast each daytime, the first thing we eat after sunset is a date, then other foods…. One feast after Ramadan is Eid-El-Fitir…It is so much fun because we dress in our new clothes and visit other people’s houses. The children play and the adults talk. We eat, drink, pray and put up decorations. We decorate the mosque with balloons. We decorate houses inside with lanterns and on the inside we put God’s name. There are games and relay races for the children. We go to another mosque, in Tampa, and it includes a carnival. We love it!”
“We say ‘Al-salamualaykum!’ which means “Peace be with you.” The response is, “And peace be unto you,” or ‘Wa alaykum al-salam.’”