- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 28, 2000

Thousands of Muslims packed the halls of the Capital Expo Center in Fairfax County, Va., yesterday to celebrate the end of the holy month of Ramadan by praying, feasting and giving gifts to one another.

Muslims traveled from as far away as Alabama and New York to attend yesterday's daylong festival that also marked the beginning of the three-day holiday known as Eid ul-Fitr, or the Feast of the Fast-Breaking, which falls on the day when Ramadan ends.

"For us, this day gives us a chance to celebrate that we've completed the month of Ramadan and to thank God for all the wonderful things He's blessed us with," said Sara Ahmad of Silver Spring, Md., who helped organize the annual event in Chantilly. "It's a big holiday for us."

Throughout the day, families strolled the halls of the center, stopping occasionally to talk to friends and compliment each other on their garments, many of which were specially made for the holiday.

Most of the women wore their traditional shalwar kameez, a silk or cotton tunic and trouser outfit embroidered along the hemlines with gold thread. They also wrapped their heads in colorful silk scarves to show their devotion to God.

Saira Effendi of New York had decorated her hands with an intricate pattern of orange-colored henna markings to pay homage to her ancestors in Pakistan. The markings are made from the leaves of a henna bush, which are dried and powdered to make a paste. The paste is used to temporarily dye the skin.

"It's a special day, and you want to look your best for the occasion," Mrs. Effendi said, as she stood beside her husband, Tahir.

During the afternoon, families feasted on traditional Middle Eastern foods like falafel and lamb shish-kabobs. Some packed their own lunches with thermoses full of coffee or tea and had a picnic on the mats before or after the imam, or mosque leader, led a prayer session to thank Allah for giving them life.

Youngsters played carnival games, munched on pizza, cotton candy and hot dogs, and made animal-shaped balloons.

"It's like Christmas for us," said Marina Rahman of Reston, Va., as she waited for her family at the main entrance. "It's a time when we celebrate the month of Ramadan and the sacrifices we made during that time. Now it's time to be with friends and celebrate this holiday."

During the Eid ul-Fitr, tradition calls for Muslims around the world to gather at the homes of the family's elders. They wear new clothes, prepare special foods like roasted lamb, and give gifts and money to their children to mark the holiday.

Others who can't afford to hold large feasts visit cemeteries to pray, drink tea and eat snacks, a way to keep the deceased company during the holiday.

In the Washington area, Muslims hold the annual festival and bazaar at the expo center to mark the holiday. Last night, organizers estimated the attendance at 20,000.

"It's a place where we can gather with their families and friends and celebrate the end of Ramadan, our holy month," said Farah Ayoub of Arlington. "It's a time when we can celebrate what we have and give thanks to God that we have lived another day."

Muslims believe the Koran, their holy book, was revealed to man during the month of Ramadan 14 centuries ago.

During Ramadan, Muslims are required to fulfill Allah's commandment in the Koran by refraining from food, drink, smoking or other pleasures from dawn to twilight, and to say special nightly prayers called taraweeh.

"To me, Ramadan brings me a sense of peace," said Ikechukwu Jenkins of Manassas, Va. "It gives you stamina to get through each day in our society."

Those who can't fast such as the sick, the elderly or pregnant women can either fast later or feed the needy.

This year, approximately 125,000 Muslims in the Washington area observed Ramadan and fasted around 12 hours each day, from about 5 a.m. to 5 p.m.

However, the month of abstinence not only teaches Muslims self-denial, it is also meant to be a month of generosity.

Many Muslims give food to the needy, help homeless people or give donations to show their generosity.

"Ramadan is a time when we try to become better people," said Heba Gowayed of Philadelphia. "It's a time of peace and a time when we come together to share as a family."

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