Burning Bright: Lights Illuminate Start of Ramadan for Michigan’s Muslims

A competition between households in Dearborn, Dearborn Heights encourages Muslims celebrating holy month of Ramadan to illuminate their houses with lights as Michigan’s stay-at-home order restricts how religious gatherings take place.

The annual holy month of Ramadan begins this week and Muslims around the globe are finding creative ways to commune as religious celebrations endure the same social distancing restrictions many face during the COVID-19 global pandemic.

In Michigan, a trio of local community organizations are shining a light on the role of Ramadan for Muslims in Dearborn and Dearborn Heights with the first-ever Ramadan Lights competition.

Explore how Ramadan is celebrated in Michigan with WDET:

Religious revelers in both cities are encouraged to illuminate their porches with decorative lights — a unique element of the Islamic holiday similar to the practice of hanging Christmas lights.

“It’s this great blend of American-Muslim culture and the greater American culture, looking at things like Christmas decorations and Easter decorations and even other secular holidays,” says Razi Jafri, a photographer and documentarian who works at the Center for Arab American Studies at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. 

“Muslims are no different — they wanted to decorate their homes, too,” adds Jafri.

Razi Jafri
Razi Jafri

Along with the Michigan Muslim Community Council and the Ramadan Suhoor Festival, Jafri helped launch the Ramadan Lights competition under the banner of his project “Halal Metropolis,” which aims to highlight American Muslims and their culture throughout southeast Michigan through art exhibitions and other mixed media efforts.

Suhoor is the Arabic term for the pre-dawn meal Muslims have each day before fasting during the holy month of Ramadan, which centers around fasting from dawn to dusk and prayer that normally takes place in mosques.

Did you know Ramadan is based on a lunar calendar? Listen to the full interview to learn more about this holiday:

Malak Wazne
Malak Wazne

Jafri says he doesn’t expect this year’s Ramadan to be as busy or as social as it usually is due to the lifestyle changes the COVID-19 pandemic has caused around the globe.

Jafri hopes the new competition can creatively give Muslims a sense of connection during the holiest month of the Islamic calendar while exploring the intersection of two distinct cultures in the country’s largest Arab-American community.

“If you were to drive through certain neighborhoods in Canton and Bloomfield Hills — especially in places like Hamtramck, Dearborn and Dearborn Heights — you would see many houses during Ramadan that are covered in lights,” says Jafri. “It’s this connection between American culture celebrating religious holidays and American Muslims and what they’ve appropriated into their own religious practices and celebrations.”

Submit photos of your house decorations to the first-ever Ramadan Lights competition. Entries close on May 11th.

Razi Jafri
Razi Jafri


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  • Ryan Patrick Hooper
    Ryan Patrick Hooper is the award-winning host of "In the Groove" on 101.9 WDET-FM Detroit’s NPR station. Hooper has covered stories for the New York Times, NPR, Detroit Free Press, Hour Detroit, SPIN and Paste magazine.