The rituals of Ramadan, and the focus on spiritual life, bind Muslims worldwide and in the Seattle area. And during the breaking of the fast each evening, the fruit and sandwiches quickly disappear at a Kirkland mosque.
As the sun sets just after 9 p.m., nearly 40 people pray in the IMAN Center in Kirkland.
It is the second day of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, a holy time of fasting and introspection. The last shred of sunlight leaves the room this Tuesday night, but prayer continues for everyone except the volunteer food servers, who slip out to prepare the breaking of the day’s fast.
Between prayers, a green plate stacked with dates — a sugar-rich food traditional for ending the fast — is brought into the mosque to enjoy.
“After 18 hours, this tastes like filet mignon,” said Nadia Shafapay.
About 20 minutes later, sandwiches, wraps, soup and other small snacks are passed out. Within minutes, the food is gone, and the families head home.
The rituals of Ramadan, and the focus on spiritual life, bind Muslims worldwide and in the Seattle area. The daily fast, from sunrise to sunset during some of the year’s longest days, reinforces values of selflessness and generosity toward the less fortunate.
“When we are hungry or thirsty we empathize with those people in pain,” said Jawad Khaki, founder and imam for the Ithna-asheri Muslim Association of the Northwest, or IMAN, an Arabic word for “faith.” “It makes us more generous and empathetic to those suffering around us. It encourages us to be more charitable.”
During Ramadan, Khaki said, “the true experience is to overcome impulses. Hunger and thirst are natural impulses, human beings are enslaved to those impulses. In Ramadan, it’s an opportunity to liberate from that enslavement.”
Khaki, a former corporate vice president of Microsoft, helps lead daily services during the month and his wife, Kaniz Khaki, oversees the food preparation.
During the week, the meals are small and distributed quickly so families can get home early enough to prepare for the next day of work, but on the weekends, meals are more elaborate.
For 38-year-old Amer Kuba, of Seattle, the community he finds at the center is the most important aspect of the month of fasting.
Kuba is a refugee, originally from Iraq. In 2007, after losing his brother and father during the war, he left for Syria. He thought Syria would be a safe place, but he was kidnapped, tortured and ended up leaving for the United States in 2010.
In Seattle, he ran out of money, lost his apartment and was homeless after about six months. He couldn’t work because of head injuries sustained while in captivity and couldn’t afford housing for his children and then-pregnant wife.
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He credits the IMAN Center for saving his life.
“Without this community, without this center, I would have tried to [commit] suicide when I could,” Kuba said. “It gave me the power to keep going. … [The center] saved my kids, saved my family and saved me.”
Kuba, who still can’t work, he said, after a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, volunteers to help refugees new to the United States get on their feet and adjust.
He helps them find housing, helps them find clothes and tries to reassure them that they are safe in the United States.
“When people come here, they are blind,” Kuba said. “[You just] open eyes for these people.”
Kuba, along with Khaki, also helps members of the center find a place to feel comfortable with their religion away from their original homes.
“You don’t feel you’re far away from your home here,” Kuba said. “You feel you are at home with more power and more freedom.”
Information in this article, originally published June 10, 2016, was corrected June 14, 2016. A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled the last name of Nadia Shafapay.