Ramadan in DC | Muslim Community Center | A Surprisingly Mixed Bag

The Muslim Community Center in Silver Spring, Md was either the very first or second mosque I visited after my conversion and it used to be my regular mosque. I had become eager to get my driver’s license because I wanted to attend prayers there more regularly. I thought nothing of driving 25 minutes each way so I could offer the fajr prayer in congregation or to attend Friday prayer.

Yet, when Ramadan rolled around, I was always rather dismayed and disappointed that women were kicked out the mosque completely for Friday prayers. Both upper and lower levels of the mosque are given over to the men and women are directed to pray in a separate building called the “main hall.” In my day, there was only audio but I’ve heard more recently they’ve added an LCD projector screen.

There seems to be no real reason why the divided setup cannot not remain during Ramadan and overflow, both men and women, could be directed to the other building. I was pleased to hear at the iftar dinner there that the mosque is trying to raise funds to expand the prayer space and improve the wudu facilities for both women and men.

I’ve avoided masjid iftars for several years wary of the mystery food items and crowds, so I was a little nervous going to MCC but quickly saw some familiar faces and felt welcome. The layout is surprisingly nice and sophisticated. In one large room, there are three long rows of tables and chairs setup and attendees self segregate into a row for women, families in the middle row, and the men’s row on the other side.

The food for breaking your fast at sunset including dates, samosas, fruit, and sweets are already spread on the table for you along with bottles of water. This eliminates lines or a mad dash at the time of fast breaking and allows you to focus in your supplication. We pray maghrib back in the mosque building and then return to the main hall for a catered dinner.

I was surprised by just how normal everyone seemed, even though we cannot interact in the mosque building without recourse to big blue partitions and separate entrances, we’re able to interact in a perfectly normal and respectful way when eating food together. It’s a strange disconnect. Continue reading “Ramadan in DC | Muslim Community Center | A Surprisingly Mixed Bag”

Ramadan in DC | A Simple but Elegant Iftar

Iftar at the home a friend

Iftar at a friend’s home

This past Wednesday, a small group of sisters and I gathered at a friend’s home for iftar, the evening meal at the end of a day of fasting. We had dates and assorted fruit with water and juice.

Quiet moments of reflection, prayer, and contemplation were intertwined with lively conversation. The conversation flowed easily and we spoke about work, current events, exercise, fencing, the beauty of having an Islamic perspective, and long-kept momentos from our youth.

Afghan restaurant for dinner

We prayed and then went out to eat at a local Afghan restaurant. Our server, a young woman of Afghan descent mentioned she felt faint as she took our orders because she had yet to open her fast for the day. She said they had been very busy that night. We offered her a chair and our own water but she declined and said she would break her fast after putting in our orders.

I’m always stunned by reminders of how much effort we put into working in this life and how much we neglect to put in the same effort or more towards working for the hereafter.

Our host for the night, surreptitiously got up towards the end of our meal to use the restroom or so I thought. When it was time to go, we asked for the bill but to our surprise it had already been paid. When you’re eating out with Muslims and someone drifts away from the group, it’s probably because they’re about to pay the bill and don’t want you to find out.

I love the friendly competition to pick up the tab for meals amongst my Muslim friends. It’s been elevated to a kind of art form, the ability to steal away and pay the bill before anyone notices.

Tarawih

We ended the night praying tarawih led by Sh. Adam at the Westin Hotel in Tysons Corner. Continue reading “Ramadan in DC | A Simple but Elegant Iftar”

Ramadan at the Airport | Muslims at Their Best

When I worked at BWI airport, my shifts often began in the early morning, before the time for fajr prayer. Throughout most of the year, I would pray tahajjud (night prayer) after I arrived at the airport at one of the empty and carpeted gates.

For the early morning fajr prayer, I would retreat to the airport meditation room, one of the few places where the ubiquitous announcements in English and Spanish, “Attention all passengers. Please do not leave any items or baggage unattended. Unattended items will be removed by security…,” were muted. I always prayed alone.

But in Ramadan, the meditation room came alive with many of the Muslims who worked throughout the airport at the Hudson News newsstands, restaurants, for the airlines, taxi and limo drivers, and for TSA. I remember one day, I stayed late working overtime, and at sunset I went to the meditation room to break my fast and pray.

A Muslim woman, who appeared to be of Ethiopian descent, was sitting on the floor eating some food. She didn’t wear hijab so I didn’t know if she was Muslim but she offered me the salams, a warm smile, and her apple. I only had a few dates, which I belatedly offered to her. Her warmth and simple but profound act of generosity still makes my eyes moist. May Allah reward her with an abundance of good. We should never belittle any act, I was still a relatively new Muslim at that time, and her kindness towards me helped strengthen me in my faith.

I loved the experience of praying fajr in the meditation room during Ramadan because the Muslims took over, not that there were really too many others there in those early hours before the airport opened. We’d rearrange the chairs and pray, both men and women, in congregation sometimes as many as ten of us. The feeling and sense of community, absent during much of the year was palpable.

Last year during Ramadan, I had to pick up a friend from BWI airport around time for breaking the fast. As I waited by the checked baggage area, Muslims who worked at the airport kept coming up to me to tell me that a group of them were gathering on the upper level by the large crab sculpture to pray and break their fast together and that I was welcome to join and share the food with them.

These were given to me by a Muslim limo driver at the airport to break my fast

I saw a couple of Muslim limo drivers holding white name card signs waiting for their passengers to arrive. One of these drivers bought me some cookies and a bottle of lemonade from the newsstand to use to break my fast. Again, belatedly, I brought out my dates from my purse to offer to the drivers.

Over the years, I’ve met many Muslims working in the local DC regional airports always ready to help me find the chapel or meditation room and share their food or prayer mat with me. I didn’t always know their names and we didn’t always exchange salams or speak but God knows their names. I pray they will be rewarded for showing me the love and character of a Muslim, magnified by their generosity in the month of Ramadan.