The community at the Akron Masjid is taking steps to keep the Ramadan spirit alive beyond the holy month.
“The essence of the Ramadan fast is self-restraint. But it is not just restraint from food and drink, but restraint from bad behaviors as well,” said Abdulkareem Melaiye, president at the masjid (or mosque). “Our hunger and thirst helps us sympathize with those who have little to eat every day. Our devotions help us get closer to God. We increase our charity to others. We purify our bodies and we strengthen our relationships with each other and the people in our neighborhood and city. The goal of Ramadan is to keep those things going in our everyday lives.”
Last year during Ramadan, members of the mosque launched a capital campaign to expand their facility at 1147 Old S. Main St. to help renew the neighborhood and make more room for outreach to the community. This year, they hope to finish the $200,000, 1,750-square-foot project before the holy month ends.
Ramadan, the holiest month in the Islamic calendar, begins tonight and ends Aug. 18. During the month, observant Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset, typically having a light meal before dawn and coming together at sunset to break the fast. The days are punctuated by prayers, and the Islamic holy book — the Quran — is read at least once in its entirety before the month ends.
It is a time of worship and contemplation and a time to strengthen family and community ties. It marks the time when the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.
The dates for Ramadan shift slightly each year because they are determined by the lunar calendar. The month officially begins with the sighting of the new moon. Historically, that has meant the start and end of Ramadan varied in different parts of the world. Today, the dates are generally agreed upon based on current understanding of the lunar calendar.
The Akron Masjid community opens its doors to Muslims and non-Muslims for a free dinner to break the fast every night during Ramadan. The fast is traditionally broken at sunset each day with a meal called the iftar. The breaking of the fast, typically done with dates and water, is followed by prayer and dinner.
The nightly dinners at Akron’s only Islamic facility feature international cuisine that represents the various cultures that unite to make up the local Muslim community, including African, African-American, Albanian, Pakistani, Palestinian, Saudi Arabian and Yemeni.
The general community also is welcome to attend the Eid al-fitr, the festival-like celebration that marks the end of Ramadan, and to visit the community during 1 p.m. Friday prayer services.
“As a faith community, we believe we are one nation. We are all part of the human race, and it is our responsibility to help each other and lift each other up,” said Melaiye, a senior research scientist at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. “God created us to know each other. We are to live in peace as a human race and reach out to each other.”
Local Muslims have been hosting cookouts and dinners for the community as a way to get to know their neighbors. They have adopted a vacant lot at the corner of Old South Main and Miller streets, where they maintain a flower garden as part of the Keep Akron Beautiful initiative. They also maintain plots in a nearby Let’s Grow Akron community garden and an organic garden adjacent to their parking lot.
In addition, the mosque offers a computer lab and weekly lectures and discussions about Islam. Community dinners are scheduled the last Saturday of each month.
“This area of the city has been described as an eyesore,” Rasheed Al-Ard, a longtime member, said while looking over the well-manicured landscaping around the mosque. “We’ve been working to change that image, and when you look around here now, you can see this is not an eyesore anymore. And we aren’t finished yet.”
Although the community is hopeful the new main prayer hall will be completed before the end of the month, the grand-opening celebration probably will be planned after the holy month.
“We want to invite the volunteers and people who have supported us — Muslims and non-Muslims,” Melaiye said. “It is a blessing that this project will be completed without the accumulation of any debt. It is our practice not to go into debt to do anything. That is the primary reason we try not to take on too many things. We want to make sure we can sustain whatever we start.”
Once the main prayer hall, which will accommodate about 350 people, is complete, women and children will move to the current main prayer hall upstairs. The upstairs hall has a capacity of about 175.
The first-floor hall, with a capacity of about 30, is expected to become a library and possibly tutoring space.
Members are working to organize a neighborhood watch group and to identify ministries to partner with in the immediate neighborhood of the mosque for projects like a local soup kitchen. They also would like to construct a playground for children in the neighborhood and generate other ideas that can benefit the community.
The masjid, built in 1912, was originally the Arcade movie theater. The new prayer space is in what once the main auditorium of the theater. In addition to the prayer space, the expansion includes restrooms and a wudu station (bathing area) for the ritual washing, or purification, Muslims perform before offering prayers.
The local masjid and the one in Kent are part of the larger Islamic Society of Akron and Kent (ISAK), which operates the largest Islamic facility in the area: the Islamic Community Center in Cuyahoga Falls. The smaller mosques exist, in part, as convenient locations for Muslims who live in those areas to attend prayer services.
There are also mosques in Canton and North Canton and Muslim Student Associations at local universities, including the University of Akron and Kent State University.
Islam, one of the fastest-growing religions in the world, is projected to include 2.2 billion followers by 2030, according to the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life, which estimates the world’s current Muslim population at more than 1.6 billion.
Of the nearly 8 million Muslims who are estimated to live in the United States, more than 10,000 are in the Akron-Canton area.
“Ramadan is the perfect time to look forward and help members here at the masjid hold onto the feelings and generosity and goodwill toward others that are developed throughout the month,” Melaiye said. “Essentially, we want to clean up our lives, our thoughts and our feelings and refocus on our responsibility to the human race.”
For information about the Akron Masjid, call 330-374-9799 or go to www.akronmasjid.com.
Colette Jenkins can be reached at 330-996-3731 or firstname.lastname@example.org.