On Holy Day, a Feast for American Senses

‘Coming of Age’- Muslim Community Celebrates Ramadan’s End in the District

There were hamburgers and cotton candy, face painting, a clown and a massive moon bounce called Jurassic Adventure. For the swarms of children at the Washington Convention Center, yesterday was a very American celebration of a major holiday.

Eid al-Fitr.

Thousands of Muslims attended the holiday celebration, which marked the end of Ramadan, the month-long period of fasting and praying. In a cavernous hall decorated with gold balloons that read “Eid Mubarak,” or Blessed Eid, they prayed together, bought toys and Islamic books at a bazaar, played in a carnival area and enjoyed baked chicken and cakes.

The bustling hall offered a snapshot of the area’s growing and diverse Muslim community. There were men in Saudi-style white robes and checkered headdresses, women in glittery saris, teenage boys in hip-hop gear, African immigrants in jewel-toned gowns.

Muslim leaders called it a community that is coming of age.

“We have become part of America,” said Imam Mohamed Magid, spiritual leader at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society in Sterling, one of several mosques that sponsored the event. “We used to have it in a mosque.”

Eid al-Fitr is one of the holiest days of the year for Muslims, on par with Christmas for Christians and Yom Kippur for Jews. It marks the end of Ramadan, during which believers fast from daybreak to sundown to practice self-restraint and discipline.

“It’s a feast, a time of prayer, a reflection on all the work we did during Ramadan,” said Rizwan Jaka, 32, a computer scientist from Ashburn who helped organize the Eid celebration.

Several Muslims at the Convention Center event said they also would mark the holiday by attending open houses with friends and calling faraway relatives. But the gathering was an important way to join with Muslims from different mosques and ethnic groups across the area, they said.

“We are from different cultures, different places, but we are all one community,” said Omar Abdullah, 36, of Alexandria, a Sudan native and a taxi driver.

Hussein el-Genk, 27, a computer scientist from Foggy Bottom, said the diverse crowd was indicative of the Muslim experience in the region.

“You are exposed to so many different cultures,” he said. He made his own point by wearing a Saudi-style white robe, a paisley scarf from his father’s native Egypt and a thick brown wool cape from the Persian Gulf area, though he grew up in New Mexico and his mother is Hispanic.

Magid, the imam, said he was cheered by the presence of so many young, U.S.-born Muslims at the celebration.

“It seems like Islam is taking root in the United States,” he said.

Having the Eid event at the Convention Center, he said, showed that Muslims are not hiding from American society, despite the increased prejudice that some have felt since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The event previously was held at the D.C. Armory and other large halls.

Magid also noted that many Muslims used the Ramadan period to reach out to the broader community, inviting non-Muslims to share their special evening meals. Rabbis, Christian ministers and people from other religions were invited to join the Eid celebration.

“I want to see Eid as an American holiday, where friends and neighbors and colleagues join in,” he said.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
Washington Post, USA
Nov. 15, 2004
Mary Beth Sheridan, Washington Post Staff Writer

Religion News Blog posted this on Monday November 15, 2004.
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