Alameda Muslims Observe Ramadan

Rasheed Shabazz    Islamic scholar Imam Zaid Shakir, co-founder of Zaytuna College, attended taraweeh prayer at the Islamic Center of Alameda on the second night of Ramadan and discussed the benefits of fasting.

After a sip of water and a bite of a medjool date, Maz Khan, 17, recites the adhan, the Islamic call to prayer. The men, women, and children at Quba Mosque on Haight Avenue attending the nightly iftar — a meal breaking the daily fast — resume eating. Khan, a senior at Alameda High School, and Alameda Muslims join an estimated 1.5 billion people observing Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar when Muslims believe the Holy Quran was revealed to Prophet Muhammad. Ramadan began May 16.

“Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam,” said Imam Ariff Shaik, a religious leader at the Islamic Center of Alameda. During Ramadan, Muslims abstain from food, drink and sex from dawn to dusk. “We fast so that people can get closer to Allah by gaining God consciousness. When we feel our hunger, we share our blessings with less fortunate people,” Shaik said. Other pillars include the declaration of faith, daily prayers, charity and the pilgrimage to Mecca.

Alameda has two masjids or mosques. Quba, originally the Afghan Cultural Center, was founded in 1986. The Islamic Center of Alameda, at Ninth Street and Santa Clara Avenue, opened in 1998. “It’s a growing community,” Shaik said. He estimates that due to immigration and refugees, upwards of 2,000 Muslims live in Alameda. The Friday prayer services, called Jummah, are packed and Alameda may need a third space, Shaik added. “Many of our people in Alameda go to Oakland,” he said, where there are about a dozen mosques. 

Alameda’s Muslims are diverse. “If you come to Friday prayer in Alameda, you’ll see people of all countries lined up to pray together,” Shaik said, including African Americans, Afghans, Bangladeshis, Indians from the subcontinent, Indonesians, Pakistanis, Senegalese, Somali, Yemeni and a growing number of white American converts to Islam. “We all forget about where we come from, connect our hearts, show love and respect and make our own community,” Shaik said.

Many active Muslims struggle to continue working out during Ramadan. “I go running in the morning while I’m still hydrated,” said Ayaan Yusuf. She drinks plenty of water during a pre-dawn meal, called suhoor. Yusuf has spent this month attending private iftars at friends’ homes and at the masjid.

Both Alameda masjids host taraweeh prayers, nightly recitations of the Quran by youth that have memorized the entire book.

Youth comprise a large portion of Alameda’s Muslim population, including many teens fasting during the final weeks of school. 

“In the past years, I would kind of hide being Muslim,” Encinal High School senior Libaan Abdullahi, 17, said. “But this year, if people ask if I’m fasting, I say, ‘Yeah, I’m Muslim!’” After accompanying Alameda’s delegation to Muslim Capitol Day in Sacramento and discussing bullying with elected officials, he feels more confidence in sharing his faith. He’s secretary for Encinal’s Muslim Student Association and hopes to educate others about Islam and advocate or other Muslim youth. “Being a Muslim in America is one of the hardest things for me and other Muslim youth,” Abdullahi said, since so many misconceptions about the faith exist. 

Each year the Islamic Center of Alameda hosts a Ramadan open house for guests to learn more about Islam and participate in an iftar. This year’s program will be Thursday, June 7, 7 p.m, Islamic Center of Alameda Community Center, 851 Santa Clara Ave. Attendees are asked to dress modestly. “Our doors are open to everyone,” Shaik said. 

For more information, call 748-9752 or email info@icabayarea.org.