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Columbia Missourian

Columbia Muslims gather after first day of Ramadan

By Michelle Kanaar, Pinar Istek
August 24, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT
The men broke the first day of Ramadan fasting together by eating dates and samosa after sunset. During the month of Ramadan observers fast from sunrise to sunset.

COLUMBIA There was little light left scraping the crisp blue sky Saturday evening. It was Maghreb, or sunset, and more than 200 mid-Missouri Muslims congregated at the mosque to communally break the fast of the first day of Ramadan. The hustle began to slow, and dates were passed around as everybody quietly enjoyed their warm mouthfuls of potato and vegetable samosa.

Ramadan is a holy month during which Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. Columbia residents gathered at the Islamic Center of Central Missouri at 201 S. Fifth St. to break their fast and pray.

Ramadan glossary of important Arabic words

Fajr: The break of dawn

Hadith: Sayings or teachings of the Prophet Muhammad

Isha: The fifth daily prayer

Maghreb: Sunset (when the fast is broken)

Quran: The direct word of God passed through the Angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad during the month of Ramadan.

Ramadan Kareem or Ramadan Mubarak: A phrase people say at the beginning of Ramadan. Mubarak comes from a root that means congratulations.

Taraweeh: Extra prayer given at night during the month of Ramadan.

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The sale of dates, commonly eaten to break the fast, increases during this month, said Shakir Al-Ani, owner of World Harvest International and Gourmet Foods. He donates food to the mosque, where meals are offered every night of the week during Ramadan.

Though Al-Ani will continue to work at his store while fasting, he is not daunted by the plethora of food in his midst.

"I enjoy fasting a lot. I feel lighter, I work better," Al-Ani said.

People removed aluminum coverings from dishes as they scooped salad, rice and lamb onto plates. About 40 women stood talking and laughing as they ate on the women's side. The first day of fasting had ended.

Soon it was time for Taraweeh. Upstairs, tucked in a room in the back, the women lined up in neat rows grazing elbows to elbows, right arm over left. 

The room was lit, barely, from an adjoining room and through the cracks in the one-way windows that divide the men's prayer room from the women's — thus the women see but are not seen.

On the women's sill sat a pair of forgotten glasses, a box of tissues. In the men's room, wall lights illuminated the inset wooden shelves casing copies of the Quran.

Visiting Sheik Abou Alhassan Haggag, a religious scholar from Al-Azhar University in Cairo, will recite all 605 pages of the Quran from memory during the month. This is his second visit to Columbia for Ramadan.

Haggag said through a translator that he knew he would become a religious scholar at the age of 7. His father, who had also memorized the Quran, began training Haggag when he was just a boy.

When asked whether Haggag would be returning the following year, Imam Abdullah Smith said: "Inshallah," or "God willing."

Smith asked members to turn cell phones off before Taraweeh began, after a few people had forgotten during an earlier prayer.

The prayer begins with "Allah Akbar," or "God is greater." 

"We try to dismiss other thoughts to prepare for prayer. That is why we say, 'God is greater,'" said mosque member Fadiah Ali.

The sheik's strong voice recited a melody that steadily climbed and fell. The members of the mosque stood with their heads inclined, and the only other sounds that could be heard were the clicking of the fans overhead. Purses and Ice Mountain water bottles lay in wait, scattered on the floor. 

It was after 11 p.m. when members began to filter out of the mosque — a long day.  The next offered one just like it, but strength can be drawn from the following Hadith: "Whoever fasts in Ramadan and stays awake at night (Taraweeh), believing in the reward and expecting the reward, all his sins are forgiven."