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Bitterness marks end of Ramadan; Observance: More than 1,500 pray at a local mosque to commemorate the last day of Islam's holiest month.


As Baltimore's Muslims gathered yesterday to celebrate the end of the monthlong fast of Ramadan, the traditional expressions of joy and thanksgiving were tinged with sadness and anger.

Eid ul-Fitr, Arabic for "the breaking of the fast," began in the morning with prayers at the Masjid al-Rahmah, the mosque of the Islamic Society of Baltimore in Catonsville. More than 1,500 men and boys knelt on green carpets in the cavernous mosque, while women worshiped in a separate room.

Afterward, they greeted each other with warm embraces while saying "Eid Mubarik," or "Eid greetings." In the afternoon, they looked forward to visiting family and friends, and sharing sumptuous meals.

But the bitterness that marked the beginning of this year's Ramadan pervaded its end. The U.S. bombing of Iraq preceded the start of what is the holiest month in Islam. And the latest news -- the alleged massacre of 45 Albanian Muslims by Serb security forces in Kosovo -- finished it.

"Muslim men, women and children are being massacred by the Serbs," said Imam Adam El-Sheikh, the spiritual leader of the Masjid al-Rahmah.

"Nobody is saying anything. It is too much to tolerate," he said. "As Muslims, we can't do anything in this country without organizing ourselves. Let's organize, and let's do it right."

"We do not want America to sit in the world as a military might," said Syed H. Ashruf, a Catonsville physician who is president of the Islamic Society of Baltimore. "But we want America to stand tall in the world, morally right.

"There should not be a double standard," he said. "At the slightest provocation, you're bombing Iraq. Why not bomb Serbian targets?"

For the past month, Muslims have fasted from sunrise to sunset in observance of Ramadan, a discipline that includes refraining from food, drink, smoking and sex. The fast ends on the 29th day of Ramadan, but only if the crescent moon is in sight. In much of the Middle East, the moon was seen on Sunday, and the celebration of Eid ul-Fitr began on Monday.

Muslims in the United States rely on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for their astronomical observations, said Maqbool H. Patel, a Catonsville engineer who is the president-elect of the Islamic Society of Baltimore. According to NASA, the moon was not visible here until Monday.

Yesterday morning, so many people wanted to attend prayers that overflow parking had to be directed to nearby Security Square Mall. Families walked together down Johnnycake Road, many dressed in new clothes from their native lands, which include India, Pakistan, Malaysia and Middle Eastern and African nations.

The centerpiece of the morning service was a sometimes stern sermon delivered by the Imam.

He urged parents to help Muslim schools, including the one operated at the Islamic Society of Baltimore, "by supporting it financially or by enrolling your children in it. That is the only way," he said. "If you do not do that, your children and their children are going to go astray. They will be lost."

He urged the youth not to succumb to the vices in society. He was especially critical of young people who frequent parties where there is dancing and mixing of the sexes. "You are destroying your parents. You are destroying the respect of your families," he said.

Pub Date: 1/20/99

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