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A Time to Celebrate : L.A. Muslims Begin to Feast as Holy Month of Ramadan Ends

March 25, 1993|SOMINI SENGUPTA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

By the thousands they came, cutting through Wednesday morning's rush-hour traffic to converge on a former insurance building on Vermont Avenue that is now Southern California's largest Muslim mosque.

The women were decked out in their finest saris and African gowns while the men wore knee-length silk shirts known as kurtas. The teen-agers in the crowd were dressed in today's hippest fashions. Children dozed in their parents arms.

At a time when the Muslim world is in turmoil from Bombay to Bosnia, the throngs who gathered shortly after sunrise at the Islamic Center of Southern California near Koreatown had come to celebrate the end of Ramadan--Islam's holiest month.

Although their native tongues may be Bengali, English or Urdu, they greeted each other with Arabic phrases they share in common. "Eid Mubarak," they said to one another, congratulating each other on ending a month of fasting and self-reflection.

"This is our biggest celebration of the year," said Bibi Fazela of North Hills. "We have fasted all month and we have looked forward to it. We're just happy to be alive for it. Who knows if we will be here next year."

Ramadan, which began Feb. 22, marks the period when the Koran is believed to have been revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. For Muslims worldwide, it is a time for intense devotion and to refrain not only from food and drink, but bad deeds and thoughts as well.

"We consider this month a crash course and it should reflect in our behavior throughout the year--throughout our life, if possible," said Dr. Maher Hathout, the Islamic center's chairman. "You charge your batteries during Ramadan to drive around the rest of the year."

This was Barbara Martinez's first year fasting. She said that although she is proud to have made it through the month, now that it is over she misses the inner calm she says comes from fasting. "When you fast, you don't fuss, you don't argue," said Martinez, a sheer black scarf draped around her head. "Before, I used to argue, you know, get an attitude."

For many of the estimated 250,000 Muslims in Southern California, Eid is a day of feasting, spending time with family and friends, visiting the sick and offering "zakat"--donations to the poor that one Muslim leader refers to as a "divine income tax" that every Muslim pays at the end of the holy month.

Moreover, as Hathout emphasized in his sermon, Eid is a time for Muslims here to explain Islam to the West, where their faith is still often misunderstood. "People do not read Islam in the books, people read Islam in Muslims," Hathout told the congregation. "People have a tendency, when even one Muslim does something wrong, to blame it on Islam as a religion and all Muslims as a community. . . . Islam is a religion of peace, it is not a religion of violence."

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