The Muslim Community Association in Santa Clara is one of the largest mosque and community centers in the Bay Area. During this year's Ramadan, they opened their doors to non-Muslims to explain the traditions of the holy month.
Ramadan is the holiest month of the year for Muslims, marking the month when the God revealed the first verses of the Quran to the Prophet Mohammed. Throughout the month, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, as well as abstaining from things like swearing, gossiping and sexual activity.
During one Saturday during this year's Ramadan, the halls of MCA are filled with men, women and children of every ethnicity who speak dozens of languages. It’s a reminder that Islam, the second largest religion in the world, is practiced by nearly 2 billion people. The MCA has about 700 members, but during Friday prayers and especially during Ramadan, thousands go there to worship.
Lubna Shaikh, outreach secretary for MCA, says the open house events began after 9/11 and has grown in popularity ever since. She says there are many questions about Islam that are driven by fear or lack of knowledge.
She says because of that, it's more critical than ever to share with non-Muslims what Ramadan is all about.
"Come here if you have any question about Islam, if you have any misconceptions or ideas that you want answers to, please don't be shy to ask,” she says.
Shaikh says interest in the open house event has peaked this year.
Shaikh says in addition to abstention from food or drinks from sunrise to sunset, the month is also about introspection and personal reflection about one's life and relationship with God.
"One of the biggest parts of Ramadan is that it's about community," she says. "We're encouraged to break our fast with others, to feed people."
When Shaikh thinks of how her family marks the beginning of the holy month, she thinks about growing up, when her family would go to the Santa Cruz Mountains.
“The Ramadan is marked by the new moon,”Shaikh says. “So we'll go out the night before Ramadan to find out when Ramadan was coming and go out and look at the moon. So as a child growing up, it was really beautiful. We would go out with my grandparents, we would go and look at the moon. It was a really family-oriented time.”
Osama Mohamed remembers waking up for predawn prayers in Egypt, where he was born. Each day brought a sense of anticipation.
“Back home in Cairo, there'll be a guy, he walks around in the street with a big drum. What we can do is, give him some money and he can call out specific people's names. It's a really joyous moment," Mohamed says.
Ali Adawe Robleh describes being out all night as a kid in his native Ethiopia.
“Especially you’re young, summertime, no school, so the whole neighborhood was all up, back home, in Ethiopia. The stores are open all night long, the restaurants are open all night long,” Robleh says.
Ramadan wraps up with the holiday Eid al-Fitr on June 14.