- The Washington Times - Friday, November 16, 2001

The Islamic holy month of Ramadan usually takes on a celebratory tone, Muslims say, but this year will be different. The prayers and daily worship will go on, but the September 11 terrorist attacks and the war in Afghanistan will weigh heavily on everyone's minds, leaders say.

"There will be a higher level of anxiety in the community this year," said Anwar Awlaki, an imam at the Dar Al-Hijrah Mosque in Falls Church.

"There will be a gloomy mood because of the events that happened in September and the ongoing war overseas," he said. "We always want Ramadan to come in quiet times, but unfortunately, this year that is not going to happen."

Muslims begin the monthlong observance tomorrow . Two recent surveys estimated there are between 1.75 million and 2.8 million Muslims living in the United States.

Many local Muslims say it will give them a chance to unite as a community, which in some areas became targets of retaliation and discrimination after the terrorist attacks. Others say they will use the time to reacquaint themselves with Islam.

But all agreed this week Ramadan this year will be taken more seriously than before.

"It has been a very emotional time for everyone . The whole spiritual tone of the holiday has been heightened," said Yasir Syeed of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society in Sterling, Va.

Ramadan is the holiest period of the year for Muslims. For 30 days, Muslims are required to fulfill God's commandment in the Koran by refraining from food, drink, smoking or other pleasures from dawn until twilight, and to say special nightly prayers, called Taraweeh. Those who can't fast like the sick, the elderly or pregnant women can either fast later or feed the needy.

Muslims use the time to get closer to God and to cleanse their spirit, leaders say.

Local Muslim leaders also see Ramadan as a time to revitalize Islam and educate the American public about the faith.

"Islam has definitely taken a hit in terms of public relations, so this is a good time to teach people what Islam is truly all about," said Sulieman Wali, a board member of the U.S.-Afghanistan Reconstruction Council in the District.

Some Muslims like Mr. Wali and others whose families come from Afghanistan say Ramadan will be especially meaningful this year because of the recent retreat of Taliban forces from Kabul. The Taliban, a fundamentalist Islamic regime, has ruled Afghanistan since 1996.

"Ramadan will be more special because of what has happened back home," said Mak Zia, an imam at the Mustafa Center in Annandale. "We will celebrate."

Ramadan has been observed under tense circumstances before. In 1999, Muslims were concerned by the violence in predominantly Muslim Chechnya. The year before, the holiday was strained by the American bombing of Iraq.

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