Every year, Muslims from around the world fast for 30 days from sunrise to sunset, abstaining from food, drink and other temptations of the flesh during Ramadan, a month in the Islamic lunar calendar.
This year is no different, with the month expected to end on Aug. 8 with the holiday of Eid-ul Fitr, or feast of the fast-breaking, depending on the sighting of the moon.
On Saturday night, for what Dr. Rehan Khan says is the fourth year in a row, the Muslim community of Harford County held an iftar, an evening fast-breaking meal, and invited non-Muslims from near and far to join them.
Khan, the mosque's president, said the purpose of the open-house iftar was to "to open our doors, to let other people know who we are, and let people know about Muslims in their neighborhood."
"It's all about educating people about our culture," Khan said. "It has been very successful in the past. People from other churches have joined us."
Khan said other religious organizations had reciprocated as well.
"They've invited us to their churches. That way, there is understanding among the people of the book," Khan said, using a term from the Quran describing followers of other monotheistic faiths like Christianity and Judaism.
Lisa Mele and her son, Daniel, agree.
"I think it is important to build bridges between Christian and Muslim communities," said Mele, whose husband, Craig, is pastor of Maple View Baptist Church in Joppa.
"We have an interest in other cultures," Mele said. "We have a South Asian activities center at our church, and want to learn about other religions and other cultures."
Mele said Khan and his family had been their friends for many years, and that they had attended other events at Masjid Al-Falaah in the past and were happy to answer Khan's invitation to attend on Saturday.
"They've always been exceedingly hospitable to us and exceedingly very kind," Mele added.
Started in 2007
The Masjid Al-Falaah community has been around since 2007, having used a garage and office complex as prayer spaces before acquiring the Philadelphia Road property 2 years before, Khan said, with most members of the community working at Aberdeen Proving Ground and of South Asian descent, with a small number of Arabs and African-Americans.
The evening began at sunset as the Muslims and their guests gathered under picnic tables set up under a tarp outside to break their fast with "light" appetizers, including pizza, pastries and salad.
Shortly afterward, they left to perform their evening prayers in the nearby prayer area before returning to enjoy a more substantial meal of South Asian delicacies including rice, naan bread, chicken curry and vegetable curry.
Indian Sizzler of Newark, Del., catered the evening's meal while Wings and Pies of Edgewood provided the pizza. Both restaurants are Muslim-owned and serve halal meat, which is slaughtered according to Islamic law.
Khan was hesitant about providing numbers, although he estimated a turnout of about 250 for Saturday's dinner.
Fasting is required for adult Muslims in good health during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. The month is a time for increased blessings, and Muslims will devote more time to prayers and increase charitable activities. Ramadan began this year on July 10.
Southern Harford Del. Glen Glass was visiting the mosque for the first time and said that while his experience with the local Muslim community has been limited, "they've treated me like gold."