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New Hampshire's Muslims Observe Ramadan

There are large, well-established Muslim American communities across the country… in California, New York, Michigan and here in Washington DC. They have their own well funded Islamic Centers and mosques where members can gather and worship together. They also have easy access to a variety of ethnic markets and grocery stores.

In cities like Manchester, New Hampshire, home to just a few dozen Muslim families, Muslims find their own ways to celebrate not only their religious traditions, but their cultural diversity as well.

Rashida Mohamed is a Sudanese Muslim American, a wife and mother. She lives in Manchester and works with the Young Women's Christian Association in a nearby city. She says she changes her work schedule during Ramadan. "I had a meeting with my direct supervisor about Ramadan and my schedule," she says. "I am lucky that I can set up my own schedule because I'm a manager of a shelter for women. So it's a 24-hour service."

During Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to sunset. So Ms. Mohamed doesn't take a lunch break. She needs to be home at a certain time to have the Ramadan dinner, called Iftar, with her family. So, she says, instead of working 8 hours in a row, this month she has a flexible schedule, from 7:00 am to2:00 pm. "I go home," she says. "I fix food, go to school, get the kids, go home and eat. Then I come back to work to do two more hours."

In Islamic countries, the daily Ramadan rituals require no explanation. But here, in the United States, Ms. Mohamed says, she had to educate her colleagues about the details of her faith. "I started telling them about Ramadan," she says. "And they are really understanding. Actually, two of them tried to fast with me last year. They fasted, they went home with me and they had 'Iftar' (Ramadan dinner) with me."

Real estate agents are almost always on call for clients, but Egyptian American Ahmed Tahoun adjusts his schedule during Ramadan so he can break the daily fast with his family every evening. Occasionally, he says, he has to be out with home-buyers during Iftar time. However, he says, his non-Muslim clients understand his needs during Ramadan. "I was out a couple of days with some clients," he says. "They knew I'd be fasting and it was going to be the break time. So they just brought me something to break my fast with."

Manchester's only multi-ethnic grocery store was recently renovated and reopened… just in time for Muslims to get what they need to prepare Ramadan's special dishes. "We carry rice, spices and especially dated, bread; pita bread and Afghani bread, Rogani Naan for Pakistanis and Indians, 'Halal' meat and fresh chicken," says Ali Jaber , owner and manager of Spices ethnic grocery store. "Most of my customers are Pakistanis, Indians. They are from Sudan, Somalia, Egypt, Morocco, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. In Ramadan, I try to carry most of the items that they ask me for."

During Ramadan, especially on the weekends, most Muslim families in the city go to the Islamic Society of Greater Manchester.

"The Islamic Society is the only Islamic foundation in the state, so we have a greater responsibility," says Mahoubul Hassan, president of the Society and a Finance Professor at Southern New Hampshire University.

Mr. Hassan says the society began meeting seven years ago in a dance studio. Later, meetings were held at a local college before moving to a rented space in an office building. Every night this month, Mr. Hassan says, dozens of Muslims gather for Ramadan 'Iftar' and prayers. "Unfortunately, we don't have the Mosque yet," he says. "But we're going to get it and then, it might be more organized."

He says members of the Islamic Society are currently in the process of building a mosque. According to Salman Malik, a Pakistani American Muslim who serves as the Society's secretary, when completed, this 1,200-meter square facility will be large enough to accommodate the growing numbers of Muslims in Manchester and the surrounding communities. "We estimate that in New Hampshire we probably have about 2,000 to 3,000 Muslims," he says. "But this number is old and has probably changed because we have had an influx of refugees within the state over the past several years."

Mr. Malik says during Ramadan, community members are encouraged to come to the Islamic Society more often, and bring their children. "We try to emphasize family values more than anything else. We want our kids to see our religion. We want them to see our cultures. We represent over 20 to 25 nations, and each nation represents a different culture. You shouldn't put aside your culture also. That's as important as the religion that you're going to be practicing here. If you come to one of our dinners, you'll see different food of different nations. You'll have on one table like three or four different nationalities represented, totally different."

The fasting month of Ramadan, Mr. Malik says, offers a special opportunity to celebrate the cultural diversity among Manchester's Muslims. They represent different nations, but one faith -- the whole Islamic world in one place.