The final nights of Ramadan are being celebrated by the Muslim community worldwide, with the Dar Al-Hijrah Islamic Center in Seven Corners welcoming back congregants and their a stronger attachment to the faith after a year away.
“When you do faith as a community, you really are lifting each other up. And it’s intended since we as humans are social beings,” said Saif Rahman, Dar Al-Hijrah’s director of public & government affairs. “So even being able to practice as a community again is something that’s phenomenal.”
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. For 30 days, Muslims abstain from food and water during daylight hours, outside of the morning meal (suhoor) and evening meal (iftar). There’s also an effort to cut down on foul language and even sex during the month so adherents can cleanse themselves of sinful behavior and create a closer connection with God.
That makes sense considering that in Arabic, the language found in the Quran, “Ramadan” roughly translates to “burning off” or to purifying oneself, according to Rahman.
“It’s a time when fasting is an individual obligation,” Rahman said. “If you go home and you eat, no one’s going to see you, right? But it’s your relationship with God and your consciousness of God that is preventing you from doing so.”
The return to the mosque is all the more appreciated after a year of distance. Rahman said in-person services didn’t resume until August of last year — well after Ramadan had passed in the late spring.
But that didn’t mean Dar Al-Hijrah receded from their community. While still in the early days of the pandemic, the nearly 40-year-old mosque set up a food bank to serve its neighbors of all faiths, with local Latinos in the Seven Corners and Bailey’s Crossroads area being frequent attendees.
And during Ramadan, nightly drive-thru meals have been given out to those who are still uncomfortable about gathering in-person. What’s interesting, Rahman noted, was that prior to the pandemic the drive-thru had almost entirely Muslim participants. Since then, it’s been about a 80-20 split between Muslims and non-Muslims.
Those who are comfortable in visiting Dar Al-Hijrah will find a different layout for services. Thursday’s prayer was the “night of power,” per Rahman, where every good deed is magnified in its importance.
“The saying of the Prophet Mohammed is that one of these nights is a night where God has chosen to forgive all of his servants that are praying to Him,” Rahman said. “We call it the ‘night of power,’ as I mentioned, because it is a night where an act of worship is equal to 1,000 months of worship.”
As you might expect, the occasion motivated a larger-than-average turnout throughout the mosque’s campus.
Men filled the main chamber and some of the mosque’s side rooms while also taking over the parking lot, all in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s social distancing guidelines. Women, who normally worship in separate areas during the holy month to avoid any shared distractions with the men, had their own designated area in Dar Al-Hijrah’s courtyard.
Pre-Covid, the nightly services are jam-packed. The main chamber where the imam is reading scripture, for instance, would be shoulder-to-shoulder with parishioners. On the night the News-Press went, a prayer rug’s length separated congregants, while the imam’s sermon was streaming to other parts of the mosque and to viewers at home.
And for those still hankering to return, Dar Al-Hijrah divvied up its service times so they can maintain distancing. For the night of power, that meant one service running from 9:40 until 10:30, and another going from 10:55 until about 11:45.
Ramadan will conclude on Wednesday with the celebration of Eid al-Fitr, or Eid (pronounced “eed”) for short.
Dar Al-Hijrah is also doing its part to give area residents access to the coronavirus vaccine. During the initial phases of the vaccine rollout, houses of worship were pegged as key sources to help reduce the hesitancy anyone might have about getting their shot.
Rahman said that just last Sunday, the mosque hosted a walk-up vaccine clinic where about 200 people came to receive their doses. Though he did add that the mosque didn’t use all of the doses it was given.
In his words, “Just like any community, we have those people who are skeptical, we have those people who are not comfortable.”
Still, Dar Al-Hijrah has an expansive social services footprint throughout Seven Corners and Bailey’s Crossroads. Rahman said that its dental clinic is one of the most-used assets it provides to the community, and the mosque is also one of the interfaith board members on the Culmore Clinic.