Ramadan isn't just a time for spiritual growth among Muslims. According to local spiritual leaders, it's also a time for Islam to create an open dialogue with the community.
On Thursday night, volunteers at the Raindrop Turkish House in Bryan opened their doors to Muslims, Christians, Jews and any other members of the community. About 30 people attended this year's first open house of Ramadan.
During the event, attendees learned about the Turkish art of paper marbling, what it means to celebrate the holy month and shared an authentic Turkish meal.
"We invite each person. We do not separate anyone," said Namik Top, a volunteer imam for the center and graduate student at Texas A&M.
Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar and is celebrated at different times each year. Mehmet Oren, one of the organizer's of Thursday's event in Bryan, said he remembers being a child and celebrating the holy month during winter. With Ramadan being in the summer, the call to fast during the daylight hours becomes more difficult since the sun is up longer.
Oren said Muslims are not allowed to eat, drink, gossip, curse, smoke cigarettes or indulge in any other earthly desires during the daytime. The fasting leads to both a physical and spiritual cleanse.
Families will typically come together around 4 or 5 a.m. to eat breakfast before the sun rises. They will not eat or drink again until the sun has set that day, when they gather for another communal feast.
Alperen Ergur, a graduate student in the mathematics department at Texas A&M, said he looks at Ramadan as a time to break from his routine.
"Obviously, Ramadan is the essence of religion," he said. "I enjoy sitting back and asking, 'What am I doing?' You have a great motivation to be a better person."
Bringing the community together to cultivate a mutual understanding is what the Raindrop Turkish House is about.
"We believe that this is crucial for peace, not just in the U.S., but world peace," he said.
Top said he wants the Brazos Valley community to "know us as open-minded people."
"In Ramadan, it is a command to all neighbors that provides we increase dialogue," Top said.
About five years ago, Top left Turkey and came to the United States with zero intentions of befriending Christians and Jews. His uncles and friends told him never to trust people from those religions.
Top arrived after receiving a bachelor's degree in theology. He was in Houston to continue his studies, not to make friends. About a year after his arrival in America, though, Top became interested in the Institute of Interfaith Dialog. After a few discussions with some Christians, Top said, he had a revelation about his religious counterparts: "They think like me."
"I started going to Bible studies ... and [the institute] wanted me to teach Islam classes," Top said. "I started to focus on the similarities in our religions, not the differences."
These days, Top is focused on opening the dialogue in Brazos County as a volunteer with the Raindrop Turkish House. One of the goals of the Raindrop Foundation is to spread understanding among religions, as well as other Muslims.
"One of the biggest misconceptions about our religion is that all Muslims are the same," Top said. As the imam, Top leads prayers in the Turkish House mosque. Muslims from other countries often come to the house to pray.
"Other Muslims come here to hear what other Muslims think about them. We are trying to be more respectful of others," Top concluded.
Christians also come to the Turkish House. And not just for Ramadan.
Jim and Becky Witherspoon of Bryan have been coming to the cultural center for about four years. Jim said he likes meeting with the students from Turkey, while his wife enjoys the educational programs.
"We agree with the Raindrop philosophy of welcoming other religions," he said. "I don't think of myself as just a Christian. I see all of our religions as related."
Witherspoon, a retired professor, said that he always tells people about the warm greeting he receives when coming to the Turkish House.
"Because of Raindrop Turkish House, people relate to each other better," he said.
Ramadan continues through sunset on Aug. 7. The Turkish House will have its second open house for Ramadan at 7:30 p.m. on July 30. There is no cost to attend. For information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.