'Understand each other': How the holy month of Ramadan works, as seen at Lake in the Hills mosque
After the sun goes down and the call to prayer sounds, the food comes out.
First, by tradition, Muslims take a drink of water and eat dates to break the daily Ramadan fast, said Farzana Nasaruddin, a board member and the social event chairwoman at the American Muslim Community Organization in Lake in the Hills.
The communal meal there -- and at many American mosques -- reflects the diverse background of its members, with American classics such as pizza and burgers for the teenagers, sliced fruit and fruit juice, and culinary specialties from the many countries represented by the congregation, she said.
The Lake in the Hills congregation draws members originally from India, Palestine, Pakistan, Egypt, Turkey and many other Middle Eastern countries. The scene is similar to any Sunday afternoon church potluck; adults stand near the food and talk while the children scurry off to eat with their friends.
Muslims across the suburbs and world, including members of the Lake in the Hills mosque, are observing the Islamic holy month of fasting, prayer, charity, fellowship and reflection. Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, began the eve of March 22 and continues for about 30 days, at the end of which Muslim communities will celebrate with the Eid al-Fitr festival.
Each year, because Ramadan is observed on a lunar cycle, its dates change, said Jamil Azzeh, president of the Lake in the Hills mosque.
Fasting is one of the pillars -- fundamental practices -- of Islam. During the month, which tradition holds is when the Quran first was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, Muslims abstain from food, drink and sexual pleasures during daylight hours.
The beginning and end of the daily fast is marked by the suhoor (breakfast) meal before sunrise and the iftar (fast-breaking) meal after sundown. According to McHenry County Muslim leaders, the Islamic month more importantly is a time of reflection on one's personal relationship with God, extra congregational and individual worship, and practicing charitable giving -- in addition to fasting.
Once the iftar meal is done, the final prayers of the night begin. Muslims typically pray five times a day with the Isha prayer the last of the night.
During Ramadan, however, worshippers perform extra nightly congregational prayers, known as taraweeh, reciting chapters of the Quran with the goal of finishing the entire book during the month.
At a Tuesday night prayer at the Lake in the Hills mosque, another 150 congregants arrived for taraweeh, which can go on for an hour or two.
"It is about faith, but not just as individuals, but also what makes us part of a human society," Alquadri said.
Two suburban mosques -- the Lake in the Hills center and the Islamic Center of McHenry County in Crystal Lake -- are hosting Ramadan events for their congregants and inviting anyone who may want to learn about the faith and customs to contact them.
"That may be a way to start more valuing and respect to each other, if we talk to each other" about the tenets of their respective faiths, said Farhan Rehman, a Crystal Lake mosque community leader.
"That is a good source to find respect -- mingle first, to understand each other. In my mind we have to invite each other" to open those lines of communication, Rehman said.
Rehman and the Crystal Lake mosque often invite non-Muslims to Friday afternoon congregational prayers. "They can come and sit with us" to learn about Muslim traditions, he said.
Prayers are offered at the mosques five times daily, as prescribed by the religion. During Ramadan, "there are a lot who try to come every day, two or three times a day," Nasaruddin said, with more coming to the center on weekends.
"All of our families and friends gather together" for the late meal either at home or at the mosque, Nasaruddin said.
Other special events, including packing food boxes for those experiencing food insecurity, are part of the month's charitable efforts, said Ghazala Alam. Those boxes then are distributed to community members, regardless of faith.
Charity is another one of the five pillars of Islam.
"This is us investing into the community and those who are unfortunate to not have what they need," Alquadri said.
The Eid al-Fitr celebration marking the end of the month is likely to fall on April 21 or 22 based on calculation or new moon sighting. There will be special Eid prayers at mosques across the suburbs and at larger outdoor and indoor venues to accommodate heavy crowds.
For the Lake in the Hills mosque, the celebration often is held at an event venue to accommodate the 1,000 to 1,200 people expected to attend.
Aside from the rituals, the greater purpose of Ramadan is to increase in one's piety and remembrance of God and kindness toward others.
"At a micro level, it is an individual obligation. At a macro level, it is our contribution to the rest of the world" by focusing on others during it, Alquadri said.