Members of the La Cañada Flintridge Islamic Congregation greeted each other and community members warmly on Friday evening at the Community Center of La Cañada Flintridge.
Since their first meeting in December 2006, the members of the congregation have reached out to the community to share information on their faith and to dispel misconceptions of who they are as Islamic Americans.
On Friday they shared the meaning and the ceremony of Ramadan. This year from Sept. 1 to Sept. 30, the season of Ramadan is recognized by the Islamic faithful with prayers throughout the day and fasting from sunrise to sunset.
“Fasting is one of the five Pillars of Islam,” member Levent Akbarut explained.
As dusk approached, members gathered in the exterior patio of the center and began a series of prayers. Akbarut remained inside the center with a non-Muslim guest to explain the ceremony. He explained that the five Pillars of Islam are a declaration that there is no god but God and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God; prayer; charity; making a pilgrimage to Mecca if possible; and fasting during Ramadan.
“Of course no one knows if you are fasting. It is between you and God,” he said. “Many families get up very early, [before sunrise] to have breakfast.”
That early morning meal lasts them until sunset and their evening meal. Akbarut said that the purpose of the fast is to relate to those who do not have enough to eat. Although they may feel hunger for only a short while, they can only imagine how desperate those in the world must feel as they go hungry day after day. It is humbling and a time to add more prayers for those less fortunate.
After the prayers last Friday, it was time to share a meal. Tables were filled with a variety of cultural fare including hummus, rice, and of course, the California tradition of In-N-Out Burgers.
There were representatives from many local churches, including St. Bede’s and Holy Redeemer Catholic churches, the Church of Jesus of Latter-day Saints and St. George Episcopal Church.
“As-salaamu-alaykum,” Akbarut greeted the audience at the end of the meal. “That is a greeting in Islam. It means peace be upon you.”
Akbarut invited new visitors to introduce themselves. They came from as far as the south bay and as near as Glendale.
“We are here to get together with our Muslim and non-Muslim neighbors,” he said. “We have received such a gracious welcome from the city of La Cañada, local organizations and churches.”
The congregation works closely with several charities throughout La Cañada, Crescenta Valley and Glendale, including Habitat for Humanity.
“We supported the Run for the Hungry [for the first time] last year [in La Cañada],” he said.
During the time of Ramadan they will also be donating funds to a local Muslim organization that will provide food during the time of Ramadan. The goal is to be able to feed 60 families.
“It’s good to share our beliefs in God,” said Jay Johnson of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in La Cañada.
Johnson is part of the Interfaith Counsel that includes his church and the Islamic congregation.
“People don’t really understand the Muslim faith,” he said.
He added that these meetings were a good way for those outside the Islamic faith to understand the religion and their ceremonies.
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