Welcome to AMERICAN MOSAIC in VOA Special English.
I'm Doug Johnson. This week on our show:
Music from Wynton Marsalis and Willie Nelson performing together ...
And a question from a listener about America's purchase of Alaska from Russia …
But first, another listener wants to know how Muslims in America observe Ramadan.
Muslims are observing the holy month of Ramadan. A listener named Trang Tong would like to know more about Ramadan and how Muslims in America observe it. Faith Lapidus has our report.
MOHAMOUD ADAN: "This is date. As soon as we break the Ramadan we start eating dates. Minimum three dates. Three pieces…"
That is Mohamoud Adan, a sixty-five year old father of five from Somalia. He now lives in Fairfax, Virginia. He is explaining the first foods to eat after breaking the fast of Ramadan. He says one must eat dates, a sweet, chewy fruit.
There are between six million and eight million Muslims in the United States. Some were born here. Many others are immigrants from around the world. Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, is the holiest time in Islam. It is when Muslims believe the prophet Mohammed was given the words of the Koran, the Islamic holy book, about one thousand four hundred years ago.
Muslims do not eat between sunrise until sunset during Ramadan. They fast to show their obedience and respect for Allah, or God. By nightfall, everyone is quite hungry. First there is just a taste of the dates and a few other things and then it is time for prayers.
Families usually prepare big meals during the day. They buy meat at special Halal stores that follow Islamic laws in food preparation. The Adan family meal includes goat, chicken, rice, potatoes, fruit, a green salad, a cold drink and warm tea. Eighteen-year-old Asli has prepared the whole dinner herself.
During the meal the Adan family and friends discuss their former lives in Somalia, popular music, the good food they are eating and many other subjects. But mostly they talk about the Koran, the prophet Mohammed and the meaning of Ramadan. And they are happy to teach the one non-Muslim guest all they believe about the mysteries and miracles of Islam.
Mohamoud Adan says it is all in the book. He says the Koran includes religion, history, science and telling the future.
MOHAMOUD ADAN: "Part of the Koran is historical. It tells what happened at -- it tells creation, what happened. Plus what will happen in the future. So, if you learn the Koran, you learn geography, you learn science, you learn social science, all aspects of life."
Ramadan will last for about twenty more days, until the new moon is seen. After it is over, a celebration called Eid al-Fitr begins.
And now it is time for evening prayers at the mosque. Some of the Adans and their friends are attending. When they return home, they will probably eat and drink some more. Another long day of Ramadan fast will begin again the next day.
Our VOA listener question this week comes from Vladimir in Moscow. He wants to know how America bought Alaska from Russia.
Alaska is across the Bering Strait from Siberia. Russia had taken control of the territory in the seventeen hundreds. The Russians traded with native groups there, but later decided to offer the land for sale.
American Secretary of State William Seward had wanted to buy it for a long time. He quickly prepared a treaty of purchase. The sale took place in 1867, while Andrew Johnson was president. The United States paid Russia just over seven million dollars.
Many Americans thought the deal was foolish. They called it "Seward's Folly." Seven million dollars was too much for what they thought was a worthless piece of frozen land.
But American traders and business leaders knew that it was rich with resources. They said owning it would improve business for states along the Pacific coast.
Political leaders said the purchase would be good for the United States because it would end all Russian presence in North America. And they said it would help guarantee friendly relations with Russia.
Alaskans first asked to become a state in 1916. Finally, in 1958, Congress approved the Alaskan Statehood Act.
Alaska became the forty-ninth state on January third, 1959. Hawaii became the fiftieth state in August of that year.
Alaska borders northwestern Canada. The name comes from Alyeska, an Aleut native word for "great land." For its seven million dollars, the United States got Alaska's oil, natural gas, forests, salmon, gold and copper and other resources.
Alaska is the largest in territory of the fifty states yet forty-seventh in population. Fewer than seven hundred thousand people live there. Alaska's nickname is "the Last Frontier" and its official motto is "North to the Future."
Last year, two superstars of country music and jazz teamed up for two days of concerts in New York City. Willie Nelson is a singer, songwriter and guitarist. Wynton Marsalis is a trumpet player and composer. He is also the artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center. Their music was recorded for an album released this summer called "Two Men With the Blues." Shirley Griffith has our story.
That's Willie Nelson and Wynton Marsalis performing the Duke Ellington song "Don't Get Around Much Anymore."
"Two Men With the Blues" was number twenty in its first week of release on Billboard magazine's Top Two Hundred album chart. That is the highest a Willie Nelson album has ever reached in its first week. And it is the highest ever for an album by Wynton Marsalis.
Here they are with Willie Nelson's song "Night Life."
So far, the seventy-five year old Nelson and forty-six year old Marsalis have been too busy to go on tour together. But they plan to share the stage again in New York this February as part of the seventieth anniversary of Blue Note Records.
We leave you with the two men and the song "Ain't Nobody's Business." Wait, who's that singing with Willie? That's Wynton, in a rare performance of song.
I'm Doug Johnson. I hope you enjoyed our program today.
It was written and produced by Caty Weaver. To read and listen to our programs online, go to voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again next week for AMERICAN MOSAIC, VOA's radio magazine in Special English.