American Muslims Celebrate Ramadan

December 1, 2000

Source: The Baltimore Sun

On December 1, 2000, The Baltimore Sun reported that Muslims who are fasting during Ramadan look forward to the feast which will break the fast at sunset each evening. "Most Muslims observe iftar - the breaking of the fast - with family and friends. But at the al-Ramah mosque in Woodlawn, iftar is a communal feast, an increasingly popular means of breaking the fast. Each evening after prayers, about 250 sit down to a free dinner, usually a savory Indian or Pakistani meal, with the spices toned down for a congregation that includes Arabs and African-Americans. On the weekends, the numbers double. This is the second year that the al-Ramah mosque, which sits next to the Baltimore Beltway behind Security Square Mall, has offered the communal iftar. The mosque's cafeteria manager, Masooda Alavi, came up with the idea after observing the traditions of another culture. 'I saw churches at Thanksgiving having these big dinners,' she said. 'I thought, 'Why not? We can do this.''Preparing the dinner is a feat of military precision. Alavi must finish lunch for the mosque's school and, by about 1 p.m., start cooking the iftar dinner, knocking out a multicourse meal for the masses in about four hours. As sunset nears, people begin arriving. They nibble on dates and sip water from paper cups to break the fast. The imam chants a call to maghrib, the sunset prayer, and the men form two lines along a white cinderblock wall, facing Mecca as is traditional, to pray. Women pray in the back of the room, behind a line of partitions. After prayers, a line forms, and Alavi and her staff of volunteers dish out the day's offering - a plate of veal curry, chickpea curry and fried rice. Sponsoring the feast on this day fell on Asif Khan, 35, a Web designer from Woodlawn...Khan is echoing the teachings of the Koran, the Muslim holy book, which states that anyone who helps another break the Ramadan fast will receive many blessings from God...The iftar also performs an important communal function for a close-knit religious group. For example, the Koran forbids borrowing or lending money with interest, making it next to impossible to obtain conventional loans to buy houses or cars. As a result, many Muslims pool money or form cooperatives for such purposes. The iftar is 'not just a religious thing," said Khan. "We try to fulfill our basic needs in a communal way.'"