Muslims gather in Colchester for Ramadan

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(Host) This month Muslims around the world are celebrating the Holy month of Ramadan. It’s a special time of worship, contemplation and fasting from dawn to dusk in honor of the time the prophet Mohammed received the Koran.

At the Mosque in Colchester, Muslims from more than 30 different countries gather for the holiday. VPR’s Susan Keese paid them a visit, and has this postcard.

(Boy reads in Arabic)

(Keese) It’s a weekend morning and time for Islamic School in the two-story brick headquarters of the Islamic Society of Vermont.

In a downstairs classroom, the boys practice reciting the Koran. They look like any Vermont schoolboys, but they come from all over – Egypt, Bosnia, Indonesia.

In a big open room down the hall are the girls, in their multicolored head coverings. Some wear skirts. Others have on tee shirts and jeans. They’ve been writing essays on what Ramadan is about.

(Girls) “Ramadan purifies our soul. During Ramadan you appreciate the things Allah gave you. It is also a period of forgiveness and getting closer to Allah.”

(Girl 2) “Muslims fast because we see how poor people feel without food.”

(Girl 3) “We should also remember to give charity for the poor people.”

(Girl 4) “And ask Allah to forgive your sins and Ramadan is about worshipping Allah.”

(Keese) Their teacher, Arva Dawman, is from Yemen. She wears the full, flowing Hejab of her country.

(Dawman) “It’s not just stop eating food. You have to be a good person, and you have to keep that with you all long the year, not just in Ramadan. Ramadan teaches you how to start.”

(Keese) At one o’clock the adults arrive for prayers. The men and boys pray with the Imam in a bare, carpeted room. I join the women and girls in a similar room next door. We listen to the Imam through a speaker near the ceiling.

(The call to prayer comes from a speaker)

(Romana Haq) “We pray five times a day.”

(Keese) One of the women is Romana Haq, of Pakistan. She says children don’t have to fast until they reach puberty.

(Haq) “But right now they are just doing it because they want to do it. My daughter the other day was saying to me, she runs cross country, my older one, and on Saturday she had a meet and she said Mom, I want to fast. And I said no, you are running so it will be hard for you. And to break a fast is a bad thing. So you just don’t fast. It’s okay, but if you fast, then you have to keep it.”

(Keese) On weekend nights, just before sunset everyone returns to the mosque to break their fast together.

The big room where the girls studied this morning is divided by a beige curtain.

(The Call to Prayer is heard from a speaker)

(Keese) Again I sit on the women’s side.

A Somali woman sits across from me. All but her face is covered. She smiles and motions with her eyes to a date cut up on a paper plate.

I take a piece and eat it. Later several people explain that the Prophet Mohammed broke his fast with dates and water. Soon most of the women leave the room to pray.

(Keese) Ann Bordonaro and Rosario Arias stay behind. They’re not Muslim, but their husbands are.

(Bordonaro) “First they had to break the fast. And then after the prayer they’ll have a big meal together. And people take turns preparing really special food at this time of year so different individuals sign up to bring food.”

(Rosario) “And because there are so many different cultures you get different types of food from all over the world.”

(Dinner Sounds)

(Keese) Dinner is buffet style. Women line up on one side of the curtain, men on the other. Salma Daoudi from Morrocco explains:

(Daoudi) “And we have two tables – one for women and one for men, just so each one of us can be more comfortable.”

(Keese) The women do seem comfortable together. Pakistani-born Nazia Iflekhar moved to Burlington from Chicago when her husband got a job at IBM. She worried at first that there wouldn’t be much of a Muslim community.

But she says she actually likes it better.

(Nazia) “Cause I’ve noticed that in larger Muslim communities people tend to become more clannish when it comes to who they hang out with versus here, you see us mingling with every ethnicity.”

(Keese) The Somali woman across the table smiles in agreement. She says that when she first arrived, she didn’t know anyone. Now she says, we are like one family.

For Vermont public radio, I’m Susan Keese.

Host outro: Ramadan ends this year on October 23.

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