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Ramadan comes to end

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
Sept. 10, 2010 at 4:10 a.m.

It is Islamic custom to embrace, hug and wish one another well after prayers and Ramadan ceremony.

Ramadan facts Fasting during Ramadan is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The other four are the Shahada (profession of faith), Zakat (donations to the poor), Salah (prayers) and Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia).

Many Muslims read the Quran at least once during Ramadan.

Fasting during the holy month is intended to teach discipline and remind Muslims of the suffering and hunger many people endure around the world.

Islam is the second largest religion in the world behind Christianity with 1.3 billion followers.

Standing among a roaring crowd of Muslims in Mecca, Saudi Arabia last Tuesday, Victoria Islamic Center President Shahid Hashmi could barely contain his enthusiasm.

"It's really something here," Hashmi said, his cell phone reception bleeding in and out. "It's like a celebration with 4 million people. Just listen to them in the background!"

Like many other devout Muslims around the globe, Hashmi was in the midst of celebrating the final days of Islam's holy month of Ramadan, only he was in the international epicenter of where Muslims go to behold Allah.

"It's amazing to be here," he said.

Back at home, the Victoria Islamic Center was equally charged with holiday festivities throughout the week as local Muslims geared up for Ramadan's culmination, which officially ended Thursday night at sundown.

"I feel sad Ramadan is coming to a close," Islamic Center Imam Osama Hassan, said. "It's a very blessed time of year."

In Islam, the season of Ramadan lasts 30 days and obligates Muslims to abstain from eating, drinking, smoking, sexual relations, and other unhealthy or contemptible behaviors during daylight hours. While observing Ramadan, Muslims are engaged in prayer, Quran reading and various forms of community service.

"It's a time to give up something to God and to feel and appreciate what God is giving us," Obaida Hamoudah, a member of the Islamic Center said.

It's also a time for community and spending time with family and friends.

"Everybody is excited right now," Islamic Center member Abed Ajrani, said. "The kids count down the days of Ramadan to the end, and then on the last day, we give gifts and money."

Because the final days of Ramadan are the most significant - they symbolically recognize the month in which Allah revealed the first verses of the Quran to the Islamic prophet Muhammad - members of the Muslim community have been sleeping in camping tents inside the Victoria mosque for the past several days, so anyone who wanted to could wake in the early morning hours and pray.

Additional prayers and good deeds offered to God during the last days of Ramadan are thought to be worth 700 times more than prayers and good deeds performed at any other time of the year.

"It's a special time to me because God says right now, the gates of heaven are open and the gates of hell are closed," Hassan's wife, Sarina Vasquez, said.

Following the eve of the final day of fasting, local Muslims gather together in the early-morning hours to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, or the Festival of Fast-Breaking, which parallels Christmas morning customs.

Many area Muslims attended the Eid on Friday morning at the mosque, which included a traditional pot-luck style breakfast, gift exchange for the children and a traditional prayer ceremony commemorating the close of Ramadan.

"The main message of Ramadan is that it's a time for getting back to what's important, worshiping God," Vasquez said. "We don't have to do it, but it's part of being an obedient servant of God. It truly is a great time of year."

Ramadan is one of two major holidays Muslims celebrate annually. It is observed in the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar.

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