On Friday night friends, family and community members joined together at the Roger Barkley Community Center to celebrate Ramadan with the La Cañada Flintridge Islamic Congregation.
From Sept. 13 to Oct. 12, Muslims of the Islamic faith recognize Ramadan by fasting from sunrise to sunset. It is a time of retrospect and life renewing for the faithful, a time to look inward to reevaluate how they are helping others. It is also a time to gather with friends and celebrate their faith.
"There are a lot of social events during this time," said Levent Akbarut, a steering committee member of the congregation. "It is a time that tests our character when we are deprived yet we still give."
Akbarut admitted that fasting is not always easy, especially when you are used to having coffee throughout the day, but the time of reflection is worth the time of doing without. He calls the fasting a "spiritual boot camp," he said.
On Friday night, several long tables were filled with a variety of dishes, some traditional and others typically Californian but before anyone could even sample the main dishes, the members prepared for prayer. At sunset a group of men and women passed around a snack of dates. Then there was an Ithan, a call to prayer by Saleh Kholaki, who in his professional life is a dentist in La Crescenta. All gathered in the courtyard of the community center and prepared for the Turaweh, a series of special prayers said at Ramadan.
The men stand in several rows in front of the women. Despite what has been rumored about the women position behind the men being a show of male superiority, Akbarut explained that it is more a matter of comfort. During the prayer, the members bend over and kneel, touching their heads to the floor.
"Women pray separately because they do not like to bend in front of the men," Akbarut said.
At every meeting the congregation invites members of other faiths to their meetings in an ongoing attempt to bridge the misunderstanding that has plagued the Islamic faith.
Members of Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, St. George’s Episcopal Church and Habitat for Humanity representatives share a meal and common faith goals with the congregation. Akbarut has said that the best way to combat misconception is to reach out to others so they can understand the real Islamic faith, not only what they have seen on television.
In that attempt, the congregation invites many speakers to their meetings. On Friday the speaker was Dr. Gasser Hathout, a radiologist who lives Glendale. A Flintridge Preparatory and UCLA graduate, Hathout is an Islamic scholar and speaks classical Arabic. He spoke to the audience about the importance of Ramadan and serving their fellow humankind, which is at the foundation of their religion, Hathout said.
"[Fasting] allows us to empathize with those that fast involuntarily," Hathout said.
"To call helping other charity makes it sound like an act of goodwill. [In the] Islamic faith it is much deeper, it is not charity but justice."
"The test of your character," he told the audience. " Is when we are deprived and yet we still give."
When asked why he felt the Islamic religion is so misunderstood in America he said that the action of a small group of Muslims does not represent the entire Islamic faith.
"There are 1.5 billion people [of Islamic faith] in the world," he said. "Perhaps 1.5 million of them are extremist, that would mean that 150,000 in each country. It does not take much extremism to make a difference."