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‘My heart is open to your questions’: Mosque hosts Ramadan dinner for Palouse community

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‘My heart is open to your questions’: Mosque hosts Ramadan dinner for Palouse community

News Story by Frankie Beer | FāVS News

Thirteen days into Ramadan, hushed silence descended on the Pullman Islamic Center. Only shoes sliding into cubbies at the front door interrupted the recitation of prayer. 

Twenty minutes later, on Saturday night, the Pullman Islamic Center continued its long-standing tradition by hosting its annual open house and Ramadan dinner, welcoming over 60 community members.

Ramadan comes once a year and lasts for about 30 days. Many Muslims over the age of 12 fast from dawn until sunset as an act of servitude to Allah before breaking their fast in a meal called Iftar, said Raed Alsawaier, a 51-year-old imam. 

Open Dialogue Fosters Understanding of Ramadan Traditions

When people are fasting rather than focusing on objects or money, he said it heightens one’s spirituality, creates time for reflection on one’s character and provides a deeper understanding of Islam. 

“Something that’s as simple as a cup of coffee or drink of water — you start appreciating these things,” he said. “I tell my community, ‘Look at the people who are struggling just to get a clean source of water or something to meet their hunger.’ It develops that sense of empathy in you.”

The open house began with speeches from community members like a Christian pastor and Washington State University’s chief of police, followed by a question and answer session. Alsawaier discussed abstinence, youth customs and memorizing the Quran. 

“I noticed that the questions are very nice and kind. Can we have more, like, hard questions?” he asked a laughing crowd. “My heart is open to your questions.”

Opening Doors: Islamic Center Promotes Inclusivity, Invites Questioning

Alsawaier wanted to build bridges within the Moscow-Pullman community and offset negative depictions of Islam in the media. If they start an interfaith conversation, people will tend to think of Muslims as equals rather than demonize people they do not know, he said. 

Samuel Ganieany (he/they), an English major at University of Idaho, said they felt safe and welcomed at the mosque, unlike the Latter-day Saint and Christian churches they were raised in. After they left the religion, a friend invited them to a LDS church, where leaders asked all visitors if they planned to convert religions and, if not, were asked to leave. 

Ganieany was 16 years old, and the experience was “very othering,” he said. 

They said hearing that one of the Quran’s first sentences encourages readers to question the book and experience the teachings themselves was surprising. 

“I was taught both as a Mormon and as a Christian, you don’t question everything,” Ganieany said. “That could get you kicked out if you ask questions.”

Finding Acceptance: Visitors Welcomed by Islamic Center’s Inclusive Values

Ashley (who didn’t give her last name), an assembler at Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, said it was refreshing to “flat out” hear how women and men are treated as equals in Islam in spite of mainstream media often tends to paint Muslims as “women-hating.”

After visiting with her coworker who regularly attends the mosque and coming to the open house, she realized it exuded an atmosphere of warmth. Growing up in a Christian household, she always felt like an outsider, feeling like she was not wanted in the church as a bisexual woman, unlike at the open house. 

“It doesn’t feel like they’re putting on a show,” she said. “It feels genuine.” 

Breaking the Fast: Traditional Rituals Foster Community, Familiarity

As the sun fell around 7 p.m., attendees simulated breaking their fast, biting into Medjool dates and sipping a bottle of water that was placed neatly before them. The fruit is an act of worship in itself because the Prophet Muhammad also ate dates, Alsawaier said. 

“These last few minutes before you break your fast is always exciting,” said mosque member Mohammed Younes. “The first few bites of food — even food that you don’t necessarily like so much —  when you’re fasting, it just tastes so much better.” 

He began to fast at 5 years old after watching his parents and wanting to do the same although children are not obligated to fast until they reach puberty. He would wake up early for breakfast and begin to fast from 6:30 a.m-4 p.m., the equivalent of skipping lunch, he said.

Younes joined the Pullman Islamic Center in June 2023 after moving from Edmonton, Canada, for residency training. When he first arrived, playing soccer and throwing water balloons with the children in the mosque reminded him of home, which he finds comforting during Ramadan when families typically pray together. 

“I feel like I have a family away from my family,” he said.

Observances Spotlight Prayer, Quran Studies During Holy Month

Although fasting is one of Islam’s five pillars, Ramadan is also a time for prayer and deeper study of the Quran. Alsawaier said it is the month in which Allah revealed the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad, who memorized the rhythmic passages years before translating them into written word. 

Men began Magrhib, evening prayer, during the open house as Alsawaier recited the first two Surahs, chapters, of the Quran from memory.

Alsawaier said he wanted to normalize the practice of prayer, which Muslims do five times each day, for those who may see them praying in public. 

“We don’t want them to be thinking that this person’s going to blow up any minute now or, you know, planning something,” he said. “[Like], ‘why are they praying? This could be their last prayer’ or something like that.”

Confronting Misconceptions: A Personal Commitment to Bridge Divides

Alsawaier said his personal commitment to stopping the spread of hate began as a teenager in Jordan as he saw the similarities between his faith and that of his peers in his Catholic school. He still feels the obligation to explain Islam during a time of high tension.

Each time he travels to the airport, Alsawaier said he makes sure to use the restroom beforehand so he is not walking the plane’s aisles even during an 8-hour flight. He stays seated, not wanting other passengers to become nervous after assuming his nationality. 

Now, as Alsawaier grows older, he said Ramadan becomes more essential as he reconciles with the afterlife and understands his purpose. 

“For a fasting person, there are two moments of joy, a moment where they break their fasting and a moment where they meet their lord,” he said, paraphrasing Prophet Muhammad. 

Frankie Beer was a participant in the Religion Reporting Project at Washington State University.

Frankie Beer
Frankie Beer
Frankie Beer is a senior at Washington State University studying multimedia journalism. She spent her time at WSU as a news editor for the Daily Evergreen and as a public relations intern for the WSU Libraries.

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Walter A Hesford
Walter A Hesford
27 days ago

Thank you for your thorough reporting on this welcoming event. The mosque in Pullman is such an important part of our Palouse community.

Talal A Itani
Talal A Itani
27 days ago

That’s wonderful. We should learn from one another, and get to know one another. As in this Quran Aya: [49:13] O people! We created you from a male and a female, and made you races and tribes, that you may know one another. The best among you in the sight of God is the most righteous. God is All-Knowing, Well-Experienced. (source: http://www.clearquran.com/013.html )

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