Pleasanton Weekly

News - September 2, 2011

Muslims flock to prayer service at Fairgrounds

Ramadan month of fasting ends with festival of Eid

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

The mood was festive Tuesday morning as Tri-Valley Muslims, dressed in their traditional finest, poured into the Alameda County Fairgrounds to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, which ends the fasting month of Ramadan. Over the loudspeaker, Arabic chanting proclaimed, "God is great."

Local Muslims come from the Mideast, India-Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Central Asia, and some were born and raised in America, said Faraz Sattar, one of the organizers from the San Ramon Valley Islamic Center. Members of the Muslim Community Center of the East Bay, located in Pleasanton, also participated.

The Tri-Valley is a strong community for families, which is why Muslims fit in so well, Sattar said.

"We fit into that description, here and back home as well," he said.

The men went, prayer rugs in hand, to pray in the building labeled "Brothers." Adjacent buildings were for "Sisters" and "Sisters with Strollers." The large open square had the ground covered with a tarp to accommodate the overflow.

Donations were collected as families entered, and plastic bags were handed out to hold the shoes while they prayed.

The Imam led the Eid Prayer around 9:30, followed by a sermon by Dr. Nazeer Ahmed. Afterward another prayer was held for those who had missed the first. Then it was social time, with food booths lining the square and children's games.

Ayesha Sheikh, a woman in her 20s who moved to the East Bay from Texas when she was 5, comes to the Eid celebration at the Fairgrounds each year. She had to leave early Tuesday to go to work in Santa Clara, where she does marketing for a digital textbook company.

"It's definitely grown," Sheikh said about the Eid Prayer event. "The San Ramon Valley Islamic Community has expanded."

The details have been worked out over the years, she added, such as handing out plastic bags for the shoes, and adding a special prayer venue for women with children.

Amna Suharwardy of Danville compared her hennaed hands with her young friend, Shireen Rahman, 22 months, of San Ramon. They were both part of a gathering Sunday where the henna was applied in intricate designs, an Eid tradition. Shireen looked at her hand and said, "Flower!" Suharwardy recalled.

Both were dressed in colorful traditional clothing, and Suharwardy recalled how fun it was as a child to wear the bright, glittery outfits and to dress up her younger sisters.

She also noted that the weather was perfect this year for the celebration. Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr are set by the lunar calendar so it has been very warm for the last few years.

"The Islamic Society of North America calculated the dates using the latest techniques," Sattar explained.

Sattar, looking around at the crowd, estimated that this year the event had drawn close to 3,000 people, rather than the 2,000-2,500 expected.

The gathering also becomes a "hug fest," he said, with the embrace going side to side, right, left, right.

"It is a custom in our religion," he said.

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