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Local Muslim community observes holy month of Ramadan

Shameem, Kaleel, Thasneem and Sabrina Ahmed set the table and get ready to break their fast on a typical Ramadan day. Bulletin photo by Riham Feshir1 / 2
Families usually gather over a variety of traditional foods during the month of Ramadan. Bulletin photo by Riham Feshir2 / 2

The holy month of Ramadan could not have come at a more appropriate time this year.

With thousands of children dying from hunger in Somalia, the Muslim community in Woodbury is feeling the crisis a bit more this time.

Ramadan is a month-long holiday that requires Muslims to fast during the daylight hours.

It is a lunar month that falls during different times of the solar year, which explains the reason for it being in the fall one year and summer a few years later.

The local Muslim community has grown rapidly in the past few years, and so did the traditions, according to Islamic Society of Woodbury members.

A typical Ramadan day consists of customs that each family observes, but it also represents some universal ways of celebrating the holiday.

"Ramadan is a month that teaches you patience, teaches you self control," said Osama Rashid, vice president of the ISW board. "If you can give up food and water, you can have self control to give up anything."

Kaleel and Thasneem Ahmed and their two children have been residents of Woodbury for 20 years. The Ahmeds, natives of India, said though the days are longer this year, there is an upside to celebrating Ramadan in the summer.

"Now that we have 16 hours, there is more time to spend reflecting, contemplating Islam," Thasneem Ahmed said. "Even though it can be hard, the spiritual benefits are worth it."

And, he said, it's an opportunity for everyone to appreciate what they have and sympathize with others who don't have much to eat or drink.

"Please don't waste food. Think about the people in need," is the message Kaleel Ahmed is getting out of fasting.

Fasting begins at dawn -- which is around 4:30 a.m. this year -- and ends at dusk, or around 8:30 p.m. Muslims must abstain from foods, drinks and sinful thoughts and activities during that time. However, fasting is not required for children and the elderly or those who suffer from chronic health conditions.

Prayer times demand when things happen during the month in which the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Mohamed.

Most families start their day by getting up for breakfast before the morning prayer, then eating at dusk before evening prayer and concluding the day with prolonged night prayers.

Though every family is busy during the month, the Ahmeds said they still try to exchange as much food as possible with the neighbors as well as get together with other Muslims to break their fast.

"It's a little hectic, a little crazy but I think that's part of the Ramadan spirit," Thasneem Ahmed said. "People still make that extra effort to connect with each other and break fast together."

ISW is having iftars -- the Arabic word for breaking fast -- every weekend this month and has rented additional space in the Crossroads Commerce Center to accommodate up to 200 people who often attend.

The meals are sponsored by a different family every Friday, Saturday and Sunday and they usually vary from Middle Eastern to East African dishes.

As it got closer to iftar time on Wednesday of last week, a group of ISW members gathered at the mosque to perform afternoon prayer and discuss some of the upcoming events.

Mouths watered as they began describing popular Ramadan dishes that are much more appreciated after the big hunger pinch.

The Woodbury Muslim community includes residents from Morocco, Jordan, Palestine, Pakistan, India, Egypt and Somalia, who share dishes like stuffed grape leaves, an Indian stew with lentils and meat and Biryani -- a Pakistani dish that includes rice, spices, meats and vegetables.

"I'm from Morocco and my kids love Biryani," said Mustapha Hammida, religious affairs coordinator for ISW. "They force their mom to make it," he added with a laugh.

With more than 150 families attending ISW from Woodbury and neighboring cities, members say non-Muslims are growing to understand Islam as well as its holidays and traditions.

"The whole 11 months are about how your body looks, and I think during Ramadan, you focus more on the soul," said Mariam Mahmoud, a youth group volunteer at the mosque.

Riham Feshir
Riham Feshir is a reporter and photographer for the Woodbury Bulletin. Her coverage includes Woodbury City Hall, Washington County Board of Commissioners and business news.  Follow Riham on Twitter @RihamFeshir for the latest updates.