This week, North Texas Muslims have been reaching out to their neighbors, hosting Ramadan “iftars” (fast breaking meals at sunset). The Islamic Center of Irving invited Irving mayor Beth Van Duyne, religious leaders in churches and synagogues, Housing and Human Services Development representatives, journalists, and others to an “iftar” last Tuesday evening. Tonight, the Islamic Association of Tarrant County is holding its first interfaith “iftar” in Fort Worth.
At ICI’s fourth annual community iftar, the mosque was decorated with lights, candles on dinner tables, balloons, and confetti. Mosque members cheerfully greeted their guests, many of whom reported that this was their second and third year to participate in this event. (Many said they were coming back for the great food!) A number of speakers briefly talked about the history of this congregation in Irving which was formed since 1989. The 38,000 square feet mosque itself was opened in 2004 and it currently accommodates 2000 worshippers every Friday.
City Mayor Beth Van Duyne proudly stated that Irving is the most diverse city in the country, with its economy attracting Americans from all over the country. One such American is Sheikh Omar Suleiman who moved from New Orleans and chose the Dallas metroplex as his center to found the Islamic Learning Foundation, an educational organization that raises the religious awareness of Muslims. Suleiman announced that he had decided to buy a home in Irving to settle permanently with his family.
Among the speakers was a representative of the Great Days of Service, an organization that brings churches and businesses together to build homes for the needy. ICI has been a participant in this project that so far has built 300 homes since 2001. Also speaking was Rev. Wes Magruder who is fasting for the second year with his Muslim friends; this year, his daughter Rachel has joined him and they are both blogging about their experiences.
Speaking of experiences, Sheikh Nouman Ali Khan, Founder of Bayyinah Institute spoke about how for many American Muslims like him, the only Muslim experience they ever had is an American Muslim experience. He said that many people around the world have a negative image about this experience, believing that American Muslims are not free to practice their religion. This misconception can certainly be corrected if people were to look at how DFW Muslims live as Americans and worship as Muslims. Indeed, for almost two years I have been covering Islam in Dallas and the metroplex, and what I have gathered is a biography of a community that is so rooted in its faith as well as in its larger community.
Some things that happen in this community never catch the attention of journalists, like the group of Muslim women who are preparing dinner for a homeless shelter this Sunday. Some acts of courtesy sometimes escape the news reporting, like the decision that MAS Islamic Center of Dallas took last night to stop having their community iftars because their neighbors were complaining from traffic and parking issues. Anyone who knows anything about Ramadan and the fast breaking meal knows how much Muslims cherish these Friday nights when they all get together to share Ramadan in community. Alas, attending to neighborly love is a priority to them.
Long live neighborly love; it is a blessing that many people around the world are deprived from right now.