LOS ANGELES - The Islamic holy month of Ramadan begins Thursday, June 18th in Los Angeles, and Muslims around the world are preparing the time of fasting, reflection and communal gatherings. The exact start of the lunar month varies by location, according to the sighting of the crescent moon.
Mid-day prayers are under way at the Islamic Society of Orange County, a multi-cultural mosque in a multi-ethnic neighborhood of southern California.
Preparations are also under way for the thousands expected for the first Saturday of Ramadan, a large celebration at this mosque. A huge canopy is being erected in the courtyard.
The Islamic lunar month is a time of fasting during daylight hours, with a focus on the Islamic holy scripture, the Quran.
Ramadan teaches self-discipline and helps Muslims count their blessings, says the director of education from a neighboring mosque who delivered today's sermon, Shaykh Mustafa Umar.
“When you go without food and drink for entire day, even for one day, you realize what you have given up, and you realize what you actually have that you had taken for granted," said Umar.
Members of the mosque prepare for a busy schedule, including evening celebrations after the fast is broken. Duaa Alwan is president of the Islamic Society of Orange County.
“Every day here at the mosque, we actually break our fast together at sunset, so that is around 8:00 pm. There are free meals, free dinners here. A lot of the larger community are invited to that, a lot of our friends from different faiths, our neighbors." said Alwan.
People share a meal, and the food, like the community, is diverse.
“You have Pakistani food, you have Indian food, you have Middle Eastern, you have Italian food, you have Mexican food, and it really reflects the diversity that our community shares," said Alwan.
After eating, there is more prayer.
Mosque member Nawaz Ahmed says this is a time for resolutions to live a better life.
“Kind of like a New Year's for us, where all the things that we are supposed to do, you start going strong and doing them, and the things that we are doing, we continue them and do it as a community and a group," said Ahmed.
Old acquaintances are renewed and community bonds are strengthened. Shaykh Mustafa Umar says it is a pattern repeated throughout the Muslim world, with minor variations.
“So it is kind of a mixture of worshiping God and also having fun and having a good time, and realizing and appreciating the blessings that you have in this life," said Umar.
Members of this mosque say there is excitement in the air, as there is every year at the start of Ramadan.