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Muslims in O.C. Feast on Peace

Times Staff Writer

Almost lost among the estimated 10,000 U.S. Muslims marking the end of Ramadan at the Anaheim Convention Center, Ahmed Yacoob had special reason to celebrate Sunday.

The 10-year-old Fullerton boy capped the monthlong observance by reading the 30 chapters of the Koran at home.

For Muslim families, the first reading of the Koran -- a challenge that involves learning Arabic -- by the younger generation serves as a “defining moment,” said the boy’s proud father, Dr. Sajjad Yacoob.

The boy’s achievement required studying with a tutor for more than a year. “That’s reading two to three pages a day and studying 2 1/2 hours on Saturday,” Ahmed’s father said.

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At night, the family would sit during Ramadan and hear the boy recite passages and discuss their meaning, said Ahmed’s mother, Asma Ursala Yacoob.

Ahmed summed up the task in three words: “It was easy,” he said, as he ran off to play.

Sunday’s gathering was one of many throughout Southern California where faithful Muslims, dressed in formal traditional garb, lined up shoulder-to-shoulder facing Mecca to pray and celebrate the completion of 30 days of daytime fasting, charitable deeds and introspection.

Ramadan marks the revelation of the Koran to the prophet Muhammad. Fasting ends with Eid al-Fitr, or Feast of the Fast-Breaking.

Sunday’s religious message of peace was given by Muzammil Siddiqi, religious director of the Islamic Society of Orange County.

The prayer services were somber. Following Islamic tradition, men and women were separated. They removed their shoes before stepping onto prayer rugs or thick paper.

With the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and turmoil in other parts of the world, it’s been a year in which “we’ve seen the suffering of a lot of innocent people and we prayed for them,” Siddiqi said after prayers.

“We’re very concerned about terrorists who conduct violence in the name of Islam,” he said. “We condemn that.”

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Siddiqi also counseled those who have become annoyed with people from mainstream cultures who do not understand or misinterpret Islam.

“I told them it should not make us angry,” Siddiqi said, “but should be viewed as an opportunity to begin dialogue to try and explain our faith.”

With prayers concluded, the celebration began in earnest. Brothers embraced brothers. Friends ran to friends when they saw each other and offered the greeting “As-salaam alaikum,” meaning “Peace be with you.”

When Fauzia Janmohamed of Westminster saw three friends embrace, she asked them to turn her way as she snapped photographs.

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“We’re all so busy these days, we hardly have time to see our friends except on these rare occasions,” she said.

For Rafat Abbasi and his wife, Maryam, Ramadan was more somber than in previous years.

Abbasi’s mother suffered a stroke this year, and his father has been ill. So the couple decided to limit their social outings during the month.

“Normally, we would have visited with friends during the evenings,” Maryam Abbasi said.

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But her husband said they prayed for his parents, which gave special meaning to the holy month.

Nonetheless, they couldn’t deny giving gifts to their children, Amna, 7, and Haleema, 5. Both woke at the crack of dawn Sunday and scurried to open their gifts. Amna was happy to get books and cards. Her sister got an arts-and-crafts toy.

After spending time later in the morning with other Muslims at the convention center, the children could hardly wait to take their parents’ hands and head back home -- to their toys.


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