Members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community talk with Snohomish County Fire District 7 staff about Islam during the Eid ul-Fitr festival.
Members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community talk with Snohomish County Fire District 7 staff about Islam during the Eid ul-Fitr festival.

Fasting is followed by feasting in the Muslim faith.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community invited its Monroe neighbors to break bread Friday during Eid ul-Fitr, the festival that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan. Imam Azam Akram likened the day to Thanksgiving, and said the congregation wanted all to join the celebration, this year especially.

The Seattle-based chapter is part of an international revival of the religion that, among other beliefs, practices nonviolent outreach. Followers of the faith work to spread awareness of the movement’s guiding principals and dispel misperceptions of Islam.

“That is what we are doing today,” Akram said. 

Islam is the world’s fastest growing religion, he said, and the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is its fastest growing sect. One in three people around the globe will be Muslim by 2060, according to the Pew Center for Research.

Akram moved to Monroe at the end of last year to serve as regional leader, a position that lasts 3-5 years before the next leadership rotation.

Ahmadiyya Muslim Community was founded in 1889 by Mizra Ghulam Ahmad, who is believed to be the metaphorical second coming of Jesus of Nazareth, according to the community. The sect does not promote a violent jihad (holy war) or caliphate (Islamic state), rejects all forms of terrorism, and advocates for freedom of conscience, religion and speech.

Members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community direct the inquiring public to to find out about the campaign that explains the distinct differences between their Islam and the Islam of violent extremists. The Ahmadiyya sect of Islam has nearly 70 branches nationwide.

Seattle’s was previously based in Lynnwood and moved into its new mosque on Old Owen Road about two years ago. The more than $1 million purchase was paid for out of pocket through donations from its hundreds of congregation members.

Friday started with the Eid prayer service.

Muslims hadn’t drank or eaten from sundown until sunup since May 16, save for those granted exemptions, including menstruating women, people with medical conditions and children. 

“Fasting during Ramadan inspires sympathy for the hungry and needy, and encourages Muslims to donate generously to the poor,” according to Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.

A program was held at the mosque following the service,  and then attendees went outside for festivities like pony rides and touring a visiting Fire District 7 engine. Everyone headed inside for a long-awaited meal shortly after noon.

The sexes ate separately that day. Men made the meal that included slow-cooked meats, spiced bread and plenty of vegetables. Each gathering had distinct character. 

Vibrant decorations and garb brightened the room where the women feasted. They talked and laughed, and children buzzed around the space. The men socialized more quietly.

Media Watch secretary for the Seattle branch of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Women’s Association Aisha Sial pointed out many of the women have roots in Pakistan and India. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community spans more than 200 countries, according to the community.

Sial said many of the members brought family to the festival. Peppered among them were guests from around the region. She stressed how open the congregation was to meeting newcomers, and how grateful the community was to share the day.

Come and ask anything, Sial said, an intention to know one another is what counts.

“Nobody has to sign any papers about their beliefs to come,” she said with a laugh.

Rachel Van Ness recently wrote an essay about her experience attending one of the mosque’s public iftar dinners at the mosque, which are served after sundown during Ramadan; a number of them were held this year.

The Seattle woman met Sial one day during her commute to work. She said she developed a strong desire to learn more about Islam during their talks on the bus.

Van Ness said she doesn’t follow any faith. She has also struggled with anxiety and depression for many years, and has a learning disability. That combination has made it hard to form relationships.

“She (Sial) was veiled, but I didn’t automatically assume that she was Muslim, as many cultures veil and it has more to do with culture than religion, but in time she revealed herself as Muslim, and an unlikely friendship began to blossom,” she wrote.

At the iftar, Van Ness wore a scarf around her head, and was told it was not necessary but the gesture appreciated. She ate a salad of watermelon, chickpeas and dates, was greeted by the Imam Akram, and knelt and touched her head to the floor during prayer.

Van Ness said it was exhilarating to have been invited “into a community that so many Americans refuse to understand and only want to fear.” She said she lays the blame on the country’s leaders that perpetuate a mentality of violence and hate. 

“It is time to reject this by watching and listening, really listening to what others say and truly believe and not the twisted and distorted messages that so many have blown out of proportion and misappropriated,” she wrote. “I have always known how wrong this is, and I just wish others could know this too.”