Anchorage Muslims celebrate Eid, end of holy month of Ramadan
Imagine having to work on Christmas — for many Muslims, the next few days might feel that way. Muslims around the globe are celebrating the end of the holy month of Ramadan with the holiday Eid al-Fitr, a festive occasion focused on family and feasting.
According to the Pew Research Center, there are more than 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide, making up about 23 percent of the population — a figure that’s expected to grow to 30 percent by 2050.
In Alaska, less than one percent of adults are Muslims, according to the research center.
The long days of Alaska summer are a welcome change from the dreary, sunless conditions of winter, but they create a unique challenge for the Anchorage’s nearly 3,000 Muslims during Ramadan.
Determined by the lunar calendar, Ramadan typically falls in the mid- to late-summer, when Muslims will abstain from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual activity from dawn to sunset. With more than 22 hours of daylight, leaders in the Anchorage Islamic community made the decision to follow times in Islam’s holy city of Mecca.
Dr. Youssef Barbour, spokesman for the Islamic Community Center Anchorage Alaska (ICCAA), said without an authorized religious figure to give them direction, everyone finds a trusted resource and follows what they feel more comfortable with. With his demanding job, he’s never fasted from dawn to dusk in Alaska, but said there are a number of Muslims who do.
In Spenard, the Islamic community rang in Eid al-Fitr. Barbour said Wednesday’s Eid prayer is ICCAA’s biggest event of the year.
“It comes as a reward for the hard work we did during Ramadan,” Barbour said of Eid.
He said part of Islam is a balanced life between fun and worship. In the Muslim world, there are carnivals and playgrounds set up during Eid for kids to play. Gifts are given to children from family members and sometimes friends. As a child, Barbour recalled anxiously lying in bed the last night of Ramadan waiting for Eid.
At a time when the religion and its practicing members are misunderstood, Barbour said there has been some trepidation in celebrating openly, but it won’t stop Anchorage’s Muslims from enjoying the second-largest holiday in their faith.
“The atmosphere is a little bit intimidating, but we have a positive experience here in Anchorage,” he said. “We have the mayor coming to our place, the police chief coming to our place. We have been in a strong, active interfaith dialogue with other churches and synagogue.”
In times of tragedy and rage, Barbour said the ICCAA has seen many showings of kindness and acceptance from Alaskans. Such was the case after the San Bernardino, California shooting in December 2015.
“We had people sending flowers to our masjid, to our mosque, in consolidation just to support us, realizing that we might be a target for retaliation,” he said. “But we had minimal threats and so far the positive is way, way more than the negative.”
Heather Barbour, Youssef’s wife, also acts as a spokesperson for the community. She said Muslim women who wear the traditional headscarf, known as a hijab, often bear the brunt of ire from people who don’t understand the religion.
“I’ve been told to go back to where I come from,” she said. “Which is ironic because I can trace my family back to the American Revolution.”
Headscarves are an open showing of Muslim women’s faith, and some women have taken to not wearing them in light of recent world events. Others have become more stubborn in wearing them, Heather said.
She began studying Islam her first year of law school, just after 9/11. For her, it was a quest for understanding to see if the religion truly called on its people to commit acts of terror. She said she found out it had nothing to do with violence at all.
“A lot of people ended up embracing [Islam], and I was one of them,” she said.
At the Spenard Community Recreation Center, the diverse base of Islam in Anchorage met. As a show of support, Anchorage Police Department Chief Christopher Tolley and several police officers were also in attendance.
With members from all over the world, all dressed in their best traditional clothes, it was a visual feast as well. Heather said everyone looks forward to seeing the clothes from other cultures. It’s another part of what makes Anchorage’s Muslim community different from others around the U.S., she said.
With so many people practicing the religion from around the globe, regional customs that might not necessarily be rooted in Islam are usually put aside to focus on what is written in the Quran, she said.
Men filed in one door and women walked to the next entrance where groups would gather to greet each other with the traditional greeting, “Eid Mubarak.”
Removing their shoes, the faithful joined others already knelt in prayer. Children ran to meet their friends, while stopping to get kisses and sweets along the way.
There was no doubt the event was joyous.
Communal prayers and donations to charity — specifically, finishing the seven-year construction of Anchorage’s mosque — gave way to socializing and a sharing of food. The question “Have you eaten?” was asked and before an answer was given a plate of food would appear.
The Eid celebration typically lasts three to four days when Muslims will visit their extended family and friends, attending multiple gatherings each day.
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