Area Muslims join up for festivities

By Andy McMurray

October is a holy time this year for Muslims worldwide.

Ramadan is the ninth month on the Islamic calendar and is a period of fasting. Muslims around the globe fast from sunrise to sundown, according to the Lunar calendar; they don’t eat or drink anything during this period.

In DeKalb, area Muslims gather at the end of each fasting period to enjoy prayer, fellowship and iftaar, the breaking of their fast. The gathering happens at the Islamic Society of NIU, 721 Normal Road, the only local mosque.

“It’s such a friendly environment to be in when you don’t have the familial environment,” said Maie Seif, a 2004 NIU grad and six-year DeKalb resident.

As the night began Sunday around 6:12 p.m. to coordinate with sundown, many of the people mingled with friends and waited for Azan. Azan is a call for prayer and as soon as it is said, the fast is broken, traditionally with dates. Dates hold special significance in Islam as they are associated closely with the prophet Muhammad.

As adherents listened to the Azan, they knelt on the floor and began prayer. Participants say certain words and perform certain gestures which all come from the Quran, said Zeeshan Khuhawar, a Muslim and NIU finance student.

As the period of prayer ended, a few people continued with personal prayers while several restless children walked about the room munching on dates and drinking small cups of water.

The time came to move downstairs and enjoy a dinner together. The room in the basement of the mosque was filled with people – some sat at desks and most of the children gathered on the floor where a red and white checkered tablecloth covered the tile.

The meal Sunday night consisted of Indian and Pakistani food, Khuhawar said. It included chicken curry, rice and bread among other dishes.

As the night wore on, the conversation turned from prayer and fellowship to discrimination and misconceptions about Islam.

Ashur Khan, a teenage Muslim, talked about experiences he had following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Khan was in sixth grade at the time of the attacks.

Khan said he walked down the street as a group of people yelled, “Hey, terrorist, you going to bomb us?”

Khan was exasperated.

“I was only ten,” he said.

Daniel Hummel, a visiting Muslim associated with the Chicago Muslim charity The Zakat Foundation of America, holds a degree in international relations from Penn State University and talked about his conversion to Islam as well as other issues.

“I was a Catholic before. Now I’m a Muslim,” Hummel said. “I realized just how this religion is practiced. People will bend over backwards to make sure you feel comfortable.”

One example of this “bending over backwards” is the hospitality of many Muslims.

“If a non-Muslim walks into a mosque and says ‘I need help, I need a place to stay’ they’ll be able to stay in the mosque,” Hummel said.

Hummel pointed out the non-Muslim perception of Muslims is often caused by talking heads in the media painting Muslims with the broad brush of radical Islam.

When people such as Ann Coulter, who Hummel saw at PSU in the early 90s, characterize Islam as a whole of being guilty of terrorism, the public tends to accept that, he said.

He brought up several incidents over the last 10 to 15 years which were violent and terroristic in nature including the Waco incident, the Unabomber, serial killers such as the BTK killer, the Atlanta Olympic Park bombing and the Oklahoma City bombing.

All of those were incidents on American soil and all were committed by non-Muslims.

Another Muslim at the dinner had some ideas on why Americans have a negative perception of Islam.

It is not an issue of race, said Omar Aly Mishal, a senior electrical engineering major. It is an issue of isolation. The two oceans separate America from much of the rest of the world.

“In Europe the mentality is different, they know about other cultures,” Aly said.