COLUMBIA — In a demonstration of faith, family and a vivid mix of cultures, more than 600 Muslims gathered to pray and celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan.
At the prayer service in the Holiday Inn Select, men sat in rows at the front near Imam Mohammad Sayeed; women gathered in the back half of the room; and their children bounced between them.
Many wore their traditional clothing — from Iraq, Saudi Arabia, India, Jordan and several North African countries, among others. Some women wore long, flowing robes and headscarves in bright pinks, golds and turquoises, with sequins and metallic thread; others wore jeans, long shirts and headscarves.
As the prayer began, people stood shoulder to shoulder, heads bowed in unity. Later, they brought their hands to their knees; they went down on their knees and touched their foreheads to the ground, palms pressed flat beside them.
After the traditional prayer in Arabic, Rashed Nizam, chairman of the "Shura," or "consultative" Council of the Islamic Center of Central Missouri, gave the "Khutba," or "sermon." He congratulated the community on completing Ramadan.
“Celebration comes after sacrifice,” Nizam said. “We finished 30 days of Ramadan; that was our preparation for the entire year.”
During Ramadan, Muslims fast, give to the poor, do good deeds and pray, bringing them closer to their creator, 23-year-old Lamees Abdul-Kafi said. It was a month of control, like recharging a battery, Mohammed Rafiuddin, another young adult, said.
Nizam asked the audience to share sweets with friends and talk to people of other faiths. To decrease prejudice, he said, people need to learn about Islam.
“The Quran burning in Gainesville, Florida, has been canceled, 'Alhamdulillah,' or 'thanks be to God,'” Nizam said. “Americans are standing against this (Quran burning), and this has raised awareness about Islam.”
Nizam encouraged Muslims to practice their religion and forgive.
“Forgiveness is an act of deliberation," he said. "It shows strength, not weakness.”
After the sermon, women kissed one another on the cheek and hugged while giddy children ran around with candy, balloons and presents. The men shook hands and embraced one another, saying, “Eid Mbarak,” or "congratulations." There were hundreds of smiles and happiness in the air as families spent the day off together and thought about the prospect of eating all day.
Emil Kapili, former secretary of the Islamic Center, found Nizam's sermon consistent with current events.
“(The sermon) reflects the need for Muslims to educate the people around us,” Kapili said. “We are the minority. If the majority doesn’t understand the minority, they can hurt or demonize us. Worst enemy of humanity is ignorance."
He said this is why the first commandment that God gave in Islam was Iqra, which means read, increase knowledge and seek knowledge.
Rafiuddin, who lives in Kansas City and is visiting his parents in Columbia this Eid, also thought the sermon was good.
“There are a lot of negative images in the media right now,” Rafiuddin said, mentioning "burn Quran day" and the controversy over locating a mosque near ground zero. "A lot of people have misconceptions. We can change peoples’ misconceptions by leading by example."
Nadia Irsheidat, who emigrated from Jordan and has lived in the U.S. for 10 years, found the sermon encouraging and its message resonant for non-Muslims as well.
“It reminds us of the meaning of Islam, which is peace,” Irsheidat said. “The meaning of Ramadan is giving and sharing, that’s the whole point. ... The Eid is just like a reward for what we have done for the past 30 days.”
Kapili was also rejoicing and felt a sense of accomplishment.
“We have done our best to increase our worship of God,” Kapili said. “Increase our sensibilities to others, needy, oppressed, underprivileged. It’s all about giving, give money, donate, give your heart.”
Irsheidat was happy to speak about her community and faith but was frustrated with ignorance.
“Our problem is we get judged without people asking questions,” Irsheidat said. “Come to me, I will answer you and you can think about it. But don’t judge based on nothing.”
For Ibrahim Felifal, a teacher at the Islamic Center, Islam is about community with Muslims and non-Muslims.
“All Muslim-Americans love America,” Felifal said. “(The sermon today) is Islam, the other is not Islam.”
The Eid community dinner is being held Sept. 18. Ahmed Habib, past president of the Islamic Center, said the goal is to invite non-Muslims to the dinner.
“We are trying to extend out to our neighbors,” Habib said.
Four or five non-Muslim families will join him for dinner at his home.
“They are our neighbors," he said. "They invite us on Christmas time.”
Habib is concerned about the picture of Islam that Muslims and non-Muslims are seeing in the media.
“I tell my children, Islam does not propagate violence, what you hear is not necessarily Islam,” Habib said. “Islam teaches be kind, the worst thing you can do besides lose your faith is to hurt your brother, Muslim or non-Muslim.”
Nizam emphasized it is important for Muslims to learn their religion, practice it and share it with others.
“Islam is a message of peace, love and worship,” Nizam said. “There is only one God and the same message comes from all the prophets.”
Said Kapili: “We worship the same God that Christians do.”