What is Ramadan? Under Trump, Muslims think it's more important than ever that Americans know

11-9-16 Trump Muslim leaders
A woman wearing a Muslim head scarf walks past people holding Donald Trump signs before the start of the Muslim Day Parade in Manhattan on September 25. Stephanie Keith/Reuters

Regardless of whether the president even acknowledges the existence of Ramadan, Muslims across the United States are determined to make the holiday mean more than ever this year.

Related: Why did Trump neglect to mention American Muslims in his Saudi speech?

For the next month, the holiest of the Muslim calendar, Muslims will be fasting—abstaining from food, water and immoral acts—from dawn until dusk. It is a very personal celebration, a time to get closer to God and attain a higher level of consciousness. It is also of huge community significance: a time when Muslims gather at their local mosques for evening prayer and to break fast with a meal referred to as Iftar. For Muslims in the U.S., it also is an opportunity to enlighten non-Muslims about one of the pillars of their faith.

In 2017, coming together as a community and reaching out to the wider community will be even more important, as it will be the first Ramadan under President Donald Trump.

"What this means under a Trump presidency, we're going to see our consciousness is at a higher state right now because of what we're enduring in our own homeland, in our country as citizens here," Imam Talib Shareef of the Nation's Mosque in Washington, D.C., told Newsweek Thursday. "We're focusing now on connecting more with our fellow human beings."

Trump has repeatedly singled out Islam as a threat, calling for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States during his presidential campaign. His second attempt at an executive order that would ban entry by nationals from six Muslim-majority countries was shot down Thursday by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals as "naked, invidious discrimination against Muslims."

But some of the damage done during the campaign and Trump's presidency cannot simply be overruled. Hate crimes against Muslims have risen dramatically, with mosque burnings and vandalism regular occurrences.

A year ago, then-President Barack Obama hosted an Iftar dinner at the White House, as every president and first lady has done since 1996. He also marked the start of Ramadan with a speech that appeared to take a direct swipe at then-candidate Trump.

"I stand firmly with Muslim-American communities in rejection of the voices that seek to divide us or limit our religious freedoms or civil rights," he said. "We will continue to welcome immigrants and refugees into our nation, including those who are Muslim."

It remains to be seen whether Trump will host an Iftar or give a statement acknowledging Ramadan. (The White House did not immediately respond to a Newsweek request for comment.)

For many Muslims, even with Trump's toned-down language during a recent trip to Saudi Arabia, it did not go unnoticed that he failed to mention American Muslims, so any words Trump has to say about Ramadan will likely make little impact on their opinion of the president. However, it is nonetheless important to them that the White House mark Ramadan as it does for the holiest celebrations of other faiths, said Melanie Elturk, who designs modern, fashion-conscious hijabs as CEO of Haute Hijab.

"I don't need to hear it, I could care less to hear it from his mouth because either way I don't think it's genuine," she told Newsweek. "But I think it's important that this community is acknowledged, as that sets the standard for the country to follow."

Regardless of whether Trump leads the way, Muslims will attempt to bridge the divide that Shareef believes has been created. His mosque in the capital is one of a network across the country that will be flinging open doors to non-Muslims to discuss its traditions, break fast and, in some cases, even fast together.

"There will be more intentional outreach to help solidify us as members of this union, so to speak," Shareef said. "We've got to get back to the path of this more perfect union, because it has been disturbed, and that's the reality that we can't escape right now, with the divisiveness that we are still registering."

It is clear that many people need to be educated about Ramadan and Islam in general, as 62 percent of Americans don't know a single Muslim, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center study. As a result, most Americans' sole exposure to Muslims is through politicians and the media, in which they are often solely discussed in terms of security. "Propaganda," as Elturk calls it.

In recent months, Muslims have been attempting to change that by holding events such as Meet a Muslim Day, where Muslims station themselves in community hubs across the country, making themselves available to answer questions about their faith. Ramadan, said Dr. Zia Sheikh, the imam for the Islamic Center of Irving, in Texas, is an opportunity for similar outreach.

"It's important because most of the people that have negative perceptions about Islam have never actually met a Muslim," he told Newsweek. "The best thing to allay people's fears is to break bread with them."

Sheikh's interfaith evening meals are often attended by 100 to 150 people, and there are often surprises for the first-timers.

"Some are very new and they have no clue, so we have to do PowerPoint presentations and stuff," he said. "A lot of people can't believe that a person can stay hungry and thirsty, especially in the Texas heat that we have here."

For some, though, such a public expression of faith brings a degree of fear.

Research has found that Muslim women are more often targets of violence than Muslim men. Many of the attacks involve ripping off hijabs, signifiers of faith not shared by Muslim men. Ramadan inevitably increases a Muslim's visibility.

"In the same way that wearing a hijab identifies you as a Muslim, not eating during the day at work or at school will identify you as a Muslim, as if your looks and your name didn't do it enough," Elturk said. "There could be a possible hesitancy in today's climate, maybe not to say 'I'm not going to fast' but to hide it."

Shareef has sensed similar trepidation.

"They don't want to speak out to show that they're different because the difference is what is being attacked," he said. "They know they look different but they don't want to do anything else to add to that difference, to draw even more attention."

Still, he believes such people will be a minority of Muslims this Ramadan, and that over the next month the holiday's communal aspect will shine through.

"Most are going to find the strength," Shareef said. "It's a time that everybody's going to be fasting and we're going to be together. More Muslims will be together during Ramadan than any other time, so we will be able to draw the strength from each other."