At 8:14 p.m., on Monday the mosque on San Pablo Avenue in Richmond suddenly bustles with activity. Adhan, the Islamic call for prayer, is said.
When the men wrap up their Quran reading and spring from their seats, it is time to break the 16-hour fast that started at 4:45 a.m.
Worshippers walk to a narrow alley inside the mosque and sit together to break their fast. With their first bite of the fruits and dates spread out on a plastic sheet, the 27th day of the Holy month of Ramadan comes to an end at the Masjid Al Rahman mosque and for the Bay Area’s 250,000 Muslims.
With a few more days to go before the Holy month finishes on Thursday or Friday – the time depends on the sighting of the moon – Muslims in Richmond, like those elsewhere around the world, have been diligently following the month’s rituals of fasting and prayer.
“Alhamdulillah (Arabic word for Praise to God!). I never miss my fasting,” says Khan, who immigrated from Pakistan in 1992. I’ve been doing it since I was 15 years old.”
Sporting a traditional skull cap and wearing long robes of kurta-pajama, (a traditional dress style in Indian sub-continent) Khan says the long day did not create any special problems. “I am thankful to Almighty for giving me the strength to observe the month,” he says.
At least 100 people break their fast al Al Rahman mosque in Richmond every day during Ramadan. The place is located next to a gas station on 36th street on San Pablo Avenue. Volunteers cook food for the breaking of the fast.
Fifteen years ago, the mosque was a church. The community members bought it when it was put up for sale and made it into a mosque.
Hundreds of people from Richmond and other places in West Contra Costa County use the mosque to offer prayers. The other mosque in Richmond known as Masjid Al Noor is located at 1330 Cutting Boulevard.
It is unclear how many Muslims live in Richmond but worshippers estimated there are more than 500 families mainly coming from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Yemen and other Arab countries.
“There is a great community bonding among people,” said Khan. “They help each other and come closer as a community during this month.”
With only a few days left for in the Holy month, Khan has been spending most of his time reciting Quran and offering prayers. He took leave from work so that he can restrict himself to the mosque and be undistracted by worldly things.
“A true connection with God is established during this month. You get peace of mind. You are at total tranquility. You are tested with hunger and thirst,” he says.
After breaking fast at sunset with a light meal of dates and fruits, Muslims offer prayers. Afterwards they eat a more substantial meal consisting of mainly chicken or meat and bread or rice. They take a break for an hour and offer night prayers at around 10 p.m. and supplement those with additional prayers known as taraweeh, which last for an hour.
After finishing their prayers, they sleep for about three to four hours before waking up at around 4 a.m. to have an early morning meal to begin the fast. Since the days get longer as the month wears on, they end up fasting for about 16 hours.
Khan has been doing this for almost a month now. He says the only difficult part has been to wake up for the early morning meal, which is known as Suhoor in Arabic.
While fasting from dawn until sunset, Muslims refrain from consuming food, drinking liquids, smoking, and engaging in sexual relations. The ritual has been made obligatory for adult Muslims, except those who are ill, traveling, pregnant or going through menstrual bleeding.
Bahadur Khan, another worshipper, says he misses Pakistan. “There were so many festivities associated with Ramadan. I don’t get to see those things here. I miss my late night shopping activities and friends and relatives,” says Khan, a physiotherapist.
His two sons, aged two and four look at him as he reminisces.
Eid, a celebration commemorating the end of Ramadan will fall on Thursday or Friday and for that day, Muslims go to mosques, wear new clothes and make a variety of dishes to celebrate.