American Muslims Celebrate Ramadan

November 25, 2000

Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch

On November 25, 2000, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that "Ramadan, Islam's holy month of fasting, will soon be observed by about 25,000 Muslims in the St. Louis area. Thirty years ago, a relative handful of Muslims lived here. More than 30 years ago, a Muslim in St. Louis might find three men and three women in a room at St. Louis University breaking their Ramadan fasts together, recalled Waheed Rana, a founding member of the community here. In the upcoming month of Ramadan, more 25,000 Muslims in the St. Louis area may be ending their day-long fasts in one of six mosques around this area, from Belleville to West County, or in the homes of friends, at work or with their families...The earliest congregations met at the Busch Center at St. Louis University in the early 1960s. 'Sometimes we took our own sheets to sit down and pray there,' said Fareed Sayed-Khaja, a macrobiologist, who migrated to St. Louis in 1962. As more immigrants from Pakistan, India and Bangladesh arrived, they began looking for a permanent home for Friday congregational prayers and a place where their children could learn about their religion. The earliest group of immigrants consisted mainly of educated professionals, most of them engineers and doctors, according to Dr. Noor Ahmed, a plastic surgeon in Chesterfield, who has compiled a thumbnail history of the Muslim community in St. Louis. There was a great sense of unity among the relatively small number of families, he said. Traditional divisions between the Shiite and Sunni sects did not divide this community. Muslims rallied around raising money to purchase land for a mosque, the first of which opened in 1975 on West Pine Street in the city's midtown. 'There was more cohesiveness at that time because we had something to achieve,' Parveen Ahmed said. 'It was important. We had no other place to go.' As the community grew larger, groups started to polarize around ethnicity and geography. Those living in West County attend the newer Daar-ul-Islam mosque, while most Bosnian and Somali refugees, along with students, visit the West Pine mosque. Muslims in St. Louis represent about 50 nationalities, including countries in Africa, Europe and Asia, according to Noor Ahmed's history. The vast majority of Muslims here are Bosnians who have emigrated within the past seven years. But there is also a growing indigenous group of Muslims born and raised in St. Louis who will observe the fast while in school and at their jobs...Sayed-Khaja says his family have taken a traditional Pakistani dessert to their German neighbors in St. Charles on Eid-al-Fitr, the celebration marking the end of Ramadan. Others invite their non-Muslim friends to "iftar parties," when groups of people gather to break their fast together in the evenings during Ramadan. They feast on a variety of special traditional spicy or sweet dishes. The holy month is becoming part of a national mainstream of holidays. The U.S. Postal Service will issue its first stamp commemorating a Muslim holiday next year. It will recognize Eid-al-Fitr. Now, each year the White House also offers Eid greetings to the estimated 6 million Muslims in America."