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300 gather in Maugansville for Ramadan event

January 08, 2000|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

MAUGANSVILLE - More than 300 Muslim men, women and children assembled at the Maugansville Ruritan Center Saturday morning to celebrate the end of Ramadan, their month-long holy observance.

The event is growing every year as more Muslims move into the area, said Dr. Abdul Waheed, a native of Pakistan who is now a Hagerstown physician.

The service, in Muslim tradition, separates the men from the women. It was done in the Ruritan community center by stringing bed sheets on a rope across the room.

The service was led by Omar Baloch, 26, the Imam or spiritual leader of the Islamic Society of Western Maryland at 2036 Day Road in Hagerstown. The mosque has about 50 active families in a growing membership, Waheed said.

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There were only a handful of Muslims in the area when Waheed moved to Hagerstown in 1982, he said. He had to drive to Baltimore for services.

Muslims at Saturday's service came from around the Tri-State area from as far away as Harrisburg, Pa., and Winchester, Va., Waheed said.

The nearest mosque is in Harrisburg, he said.

Baloch led the faithful through a service that lasted about an hour.

The celebrants removed their shoes at the door. Many of the men were dressed in traditional Indian and Pakistani clothes wearing shalwars, or pants, and qamees, or shirts, that drape down below the knees like skirts.

Muslims of Saudi Arabian descent wore long robes. Many of the women wore saris.

During the service the men and women, in their separate rooms, knelt, bowed and touched their foreheads to the floor. They repeated "Allahu Akbar," after the Imam, which translates as "God is the Greatest."

In his sermon, Baloch told the congregation that the world has become very small and the need for communication among people and nations is great.

"As the world gets smaller, people of different cultures, religions and values are finding it more and more difficult to communicate. Today there are 22 places in the world that are at war," he said.

Islamic philosophy is centered on the belief that every person descended from the same parents - Adam and Eve - and that all people are created equal at birth.

"It is God's favor to humanity that we're all of different languages, culture and color. If we were all the same it would be a boring world," Baloch said.

Muslims believe in one God. They believe in Jesus, but only as a prophet, one of 124,000 such prophets who spread the word of God, down to Mohammed.

Mohammed is considered to be the last prophet, the one who brought the Muslims together in the Islamic religion around 1,500 years ago, Baloch said.

"The beauty of Islam is that it is the only major religion that is not named after a person or a place," Baloch said. "Islam means peace. It brings contentment into your heart."

He said the path to true peace and justice in the world has to begin with individuals who possess their own inner peace and tranquility.

Ramadan is Islam's biggest holiday. It runs for a month in the Islamic calendar's ninth month from full moon to full moon.

Ramadan requires Muslims to fast from before sunup to after sundown every day for the month.

"We eat before sunup and don't drink, eat, smoke or have sex during the day," Waheed said. "Angels don't eat, drink or smoke and we want to be good like the angels."

During Ramadan, Muslims read from the Quran, their Bible, every night for two hours. It takes the whole month to read through the holy book, he said.

Saturday's service ended with another Muslim tradition - three hugs and a handshake.

After Ramadan comes Eids, which is akin to Christmas in that it brings families and friends together in celebration.

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