Join in a Ramadan meal with Muslim neighbors in Fresno

Mona Riazi grabs a beef kabob during a Ramadan dinner at the Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno in 2007. The community is invited to take part in the 14 scheduled meals at the center this year.
Mona Riazi grabs a beef kabob during a Ramadan dinner at the Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno in 2007. The community is invited to take part in the 14 scheduled meals at the center this year. THE FRESNO BEE

Next week’s new crescent moon — “God’s clock,” says the manager of the Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno — marks the start of the annual monthlong religious practices of Ramadan for an estimated 15,000 Muslims in the central San Joaquin Valley.

And “iftar” — when Muslims gather after sunset for shared dinners following required fasting during Ramadan — is a perfect time for non-Muslims to get better acquainted with their Muslim neighbors, said Reza Nekumanesh, manager of the Islamic center in northeast Fresno.

The 14 scheduled meals at the center — all but one free of charge — will be delicious, Nekumanesh promises. Think shish kabobs, meat stews and lentil soups among the variety of Iranian, Pakistani and Arabic foods to be served.

“I would love people to come in our doors to share a meal with us, to get to know us, to see what it is to be Muslim in America,” Nekumanesh said. “We are part of the American tapestry. We are productive citizens — doctors, teachers, lawyers, farmers, businessmen, moms, dads — just like everyone else. Over a meal is a good time to get to know one another.”

For Muslims, Ramadan commemorates when God, “Allah,” sent archangel Gabriel to prophet Muhammad to deliver the Qur’an, Islam’s holy book. Muslims believe God sent 124,000 prophets to earth beginning with Adam and ending with Muhammad. Among the most revered are Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad.

This year, Ramadan will likely begin on Thursday, Nekumanesh said. The exact time is marked by the emergence of the crescent moon.

The cornerstones of Ramadan include an emphasis on sharing and gathering as a community; the recitation of the Qur’an; alms giving — money, food or other donations to those in need — and fasting from dawn to dusk for “mature, sane and healthy adults.” Some are exempt from that definition, including pregnant women, those nursing and people traveling.

Imam Seyed Ali Ghazvini, the spiritual leader of the Fresno center, said Ramadan is a great time for Valley residents to learn about Islam. Coming together, he said, “promotes peace, understanding and respect.”

Nekumanesh said most Muslims do not condone violence.

“One out of every four or five people in the world is a Muslim,” Nekumanesh said. “If one out of every four to five people on earth was violent and believed in hatred and extremism, nobody else would be alive. … Our religion is not inherently violent.”

Ghazvini said fasting during Ramadan helps empower the will and boosts “spiritual strength.”

Fasting for Muslims is a “breaking away” from daily habits, which means they also abstain from sexual activity and things like smoking.

“God wants to tell us, ‘Yes, you can overcome your addictions.’” Ghazvini said.

Of fasting, he added, “This is another way to appreciate God’s gifts.”

He’s also looking forward to breaking the daily fasts with others at the Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno.

“Sharing food together, it’s really strengthening the bond within the members of the community.”

Join in an iftar

All meals are free (except a June 26 fundraiser) and will be served after sunset, around 8:30 p.m. at the Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno, 2111 E Nees Ave. Speakers will present during a program that starts at 7 p.m. Some nights, the program will be in Farsi, the language spoken in Iran.

Shoes can be worn inside the center and women don’t have to cover their heads, unless entering a room designated as a mosque. Modest dress is appreciated. Don’t wear shorts or tank tops.

The community is also invited to participate in Eid al-Fitr, the Islamic holiday marking the completion of Ramadan. People will gather at the center at 7:30 a.m. July 18 for prayers, gift giving and a potluck breakfast.

Scheduled dinners

  • Friday, June 19 (Spirit of Abraham awards presented)
  • Saturday, June 20 (Farsi program)
  • Friday, June 26 (Fundraiser dinner: $25 adults, $10 students/children)
  • Saturday, June 27 (Farsi program)
  • Wednesday, July 1
  • Friday, July 3
  • Saturday, July 4 (Farsi program)
  • Sunday, July 5
  • Tuesday, July 7
  • Wednesday, July 8
  • Thursday, July 9
  • Friday, July 10
  • Saturday, July 11 (Farsi program)
  • Wednesday, July 15 (For youth, ages ages 13 to 25. Dinner only, no speakers.)