Muslims often break their fast by drinking water a
Muslims often break their fast by drinking water and eating dates as the Prophet Muhammad did.

The holy month of Ramadan is marked by fasting from dawn to dusk.

Muslim Americans end each day of fasting with a festive meal known as Iftar. After a long day, they relax and share the rituals of Ramadan from sundown to the predawn hours.

Coming together

As the sun sets, several Muslim families gather in a Virginia home just outside of Washington, D.C. to break the daily fast together.

Each family has brought a dish to share.

"We pray, we thank God every night and it reminds me of Thanksgiving, and I am grateful to God because he is giving us thirty Thanksgivings, not only one," says Aida Mady, an interior decorator and member of the American Muslim Women Association, who is hosting the Iftar.

Her husband, Ibrahim, is a physician. He graduated from Al Azhar University in Cairo, the oldest Islamic University in the world.

"We break our fast drinking water and eating dates as the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, used to do," he says. "And then we go and pray our first night prayer and then come back and eat our Iftar."

The five Muslim families attend the Iftar after a long day at work where they are surrounded by non-Muslims. Yusra Shawer, a policy analyst, copes with the challenge of being around people who are not fasting.   

Increased devotion

"I am always reminding myself that it is the time when I remember God, be close to him, have devotion for the religion, so it is not too bad."

Ramadan is often a time of increased prayer and de
Ramadan is often a time of increased prayer and devotion.

Ramadan is an opportunity for Muslim Americans to unify and discuss issues related to the community.

"Despite the controversy over an Islamic cultural center in New York, we are sure that the principles of our founding fathers would eventually prevail," says Dr. Said Ali, a gynecologist in neighboring Maryland. "There is no doubt that we Muslim Americans thank God every day for the freedoms our country secured for us."  

After the meal, the families perform the nightly prayer.

"Ramadan nightly prayer is an expression of devotion and seeking forgiveness," says Ali Gamay, a businessman. "Each night we finish reciting one chapter of the holy Koran. By the end of the holy month of Ramadan we complete reciting the 30 chapters."

Gamay is raising funds for a new Islamic Center in Northern Virginia. He says local Jewish and Christian leaders have expressed support for the project, especially since the center will include interfaith activities:

"That is one huge function we would like to perform, which is to invite non-Muslims and start a dialogue about religions and make them understand more about Islam because the issue we notice in America is that most Americans really have never met a Muslim and they have no idea about Islam. We would like to promote understanding and open channels for communications."

Giving to the less fortunate - these young Muslims
Giving to the less fortunate - these young Muslims are preparing bagged lunches for the homeless - is an important part of Ramadan.

Helping others

The young members of these families are following the tradition of helping those less fortunate during Ramadan.

They've set up a group called, One Race, One Place.

"This Saturday we are going to do something called Meals On Wheels and we basically will get together at a friend's house and bag as many lunches as we can possibly make for homeless people," says Dina Mohamed. "And we go down to the city and pass them out and see how many people we can feed."

It's all part of the Ramadan tradition, getting closer to God and each other, while keeping the less fortunate in their thoughts.