Muslims set to begin Ramadan

The Muslim holy month of fasting begins today and, for the first time, local followers of the faith will have a nearby location to meet and practice their traditions together in what can otherwise be a lonely and challenging period of self-restraint, community leaders said.

Muslims abstain from food, drink and sexual activity during daylight hours for the month of Ramadan, which follows the lunar calendar and will last until Sept. 19 this year.

While local Muslims have either gone without attending traditional evening prayer services or have driven to other mosques in the past, this year will be different, said Mahmoud Nouh, spokesman for the Islamic Center of Glendale.

The group hosted about 170 Muslims from Glendale, Burbank and La Cañada on Friday at the Pacific Community Center for one last noon prayer service before the official start of Ramadan at sunset.

The center, a community nonprofit established this year, hoped it would be able to make Ramadan a little more special for residents by offering a destination for nightly meetings and prayer services, the first of which it held Friday night, Nouh said.

The “sense of community feeling” from nightly prayer meetings with neighbors and other nearby residents would make Ramadan more special and less of a challenge than it might be without the communal and spiritual support of the group, Nouh said.

Local residents agreed that regular community meetings are an important part of what makes Ramadan special.

“It’s not only just an individual exercise, but it’s a chance for the community to share in its practice and to get together and to become closer on a social basis,” said Levent Akbarut, a member of the steering committee for the Islamic Congregation of La Cañada.

The La Cañada congregation will host its own community meeting and iftar, the meal eaten at sunset to break the fast, on Sept. 18. State Sen. Carol Liu and other residents are expected to attend to learn about the importance of the holy month, Akbarut said.

“It’s an exercise of expressing who we are as human beings; that we have the ability to control our biological impulses for a higher purpose,” he said. “No other creation in the universe has the ability to exercise its freewill to control their natural impulses for higher impulses and goals.”

Muslims typically wake up to eat a meal before dawn in preparation for the ritual, then break fast together at sunset, usually by eating a date. Many followers of the faith also meet for nightly prayers, called taraweeh prayers, during which they read through sections of the Koran, which is believed to have been revealed on one of the final days of the month.

Believers complete a full reading of the text by the end of the month.

A trained Koranic reciter will lead the nightly readings starting at 9 p.m. at the Pacific Community Center, where the Islamic Center of Glendale will hold a community iftar meal on Sept. 12 at sunset and a “night of power” service on Sept. 16, to commemorate the first revelation of the Koran to the Prophet Muhammad.

Glendale resident Nudra Khatri, who attended the noon service Friday, said she was excited to have a place to meet with the community for prayers on a nightly basis, rather than driving elsewhere or experiencing the month on her own.

“It’s a totally different experience,” she said.

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