Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Guest Post from Rickvid in Seattle

An Evening Among Muslims

Went to an Iftar (Islamic community dinner to break the Ramadan fast) dinner Saturday night, sponsored by the Turkish community on the East Side (Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond) and the Acacia Foundation. Some friends, who trend politically left, had taken a cooking class from a Turkish woman who in turn invited them to this event. They invited me. I checked out the Acacia Foundation (for obvious reasons) and it seems to be a legit cross cultural and charitable organization. I drove. Of interest is that I have a small Israeli flag in the passenger side window in the rear of my car. I wondered if my passengers would mention it and want me to remove it. They did not. The dinner was held in the Old Redmond Schoolhouse Community Center.

We sat at table with a young Turkish couple and their 4 year old son. High school aged girls in bright Turkish costumes bustled about setting big foil platters of food on serving tables, putting plates of dates, dolmas, bread, and water on the seating tables, and generally seeing that everything was being done to serve the diners. Women in hijabs flitted from table to table welcoming everyone. Many women did not wear hijabs, and I wondered if many who did that evening did so as it was a religious, as well as community, event.

The cooking teacher was in charge of the kitchen. She is a short round woman, the type of momma you’d know from any ethnic group, smiling, welcoming all, greeting strangers. The only thing she, and the others, did not do that would be done in the Italian or Polish or Irish enclaves I knew back in Baltimore was shove some food at us right away. We needed to wait until sundown. As that time approached, a fellow on stage welcomed us, and introduced a fellow who faced east and opened with prayer in the Muslim style. After the call to prayer we have all heard on TV, films, and maybe in real life, he recited a prayer in Arabic, and a woman then read the same in English. It thanked Allah for his blessings, for we guests, and prayed for relief of famine in East Africa. Oddly, unlike we Christians or Jews, nobody stood or bowed their heads, although at one point the Muslims hold their hands up in a supplication gesture, then rub their hands across their faces. Nobody expected us non-Muslims to participate. Immediately after all that, people ate dates and drank water. Dates and water are traditional for breaking the fast. Then, in line for some amazing food.

The young couple at table were quite chatty. We discussed what would happen to a Muslim who lived in the very far north where there is no sun up or sun down, and that, because everything is based on the lunar cycle, Ramadan is observed 10 days earlier each year. Next year will be an even longer day than this year. The husband is a software engineer at Microsoft, and said the bulk of the Turkish community in the Seattle area are MS employees. MS is a major engine of immigration here.

A few local politicians got up and spoke, briefly thankfully. A University of Washington professor who offers classes on Islam talked about Ramadan and the discipline of fasting. Any Jew or Christian who has practiced the discipline of fasting could certainly relate to the basis of this fast, but Muslims refrain from ingesting anything from sun up to sun down. Up here in the north, that is a long day! The professor says he asks his students to do one Islamic thing that they do not usually do, such as wear a hijab or fast, for one day. He says he has seen quite a few changes in the students who fast from food, water, coffee, and smoking, (even pot he points out to them). They never do anything like that, usually, and learn a great deal about restraint, compassion, focusing on things other than themselves. Sound very familiar to this Christian.

In all, the evening was very pleasant, very filling!, and interesting. The Turks are a wonderful people, and were gracious and welcoming to all. I have known and worked with Turks on and off for years here. If there is anything like this in your area, you might want to check it out. Putting real faces onto good people gives perspective to the evil of some, making it all the more vile and despicable.

~Rickvid in Seattle

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