The evening of March 22, 2023 begins the Islamic holy time of Ramadan, which lasts for 30 consecutive days, this year ending on April 21, 2023.
During this time, Muslims observe fasting from sunrise to sundown, abstaining from any food or drink during those times. The fast is broken each of the 30 evenings after sundown with a meal called iftar. Along with fasting, prayer and reflection are key activities performed during Ramadan.
Burien is home to The Muslim American Youth Foundation, (MAYF) which purchased the former site of the Highline Athletic Club in 2021, and currently offers academic, religious, athletic and family support and education in the former club space. Their stated mission is “to educate, enrich and enlighten the Muslim youth.” With such a rich resource for Islam right here in the midst of South King County, we decided to spend a little time visiting MAYF and learning more about what observing Ramadan is like here in our area and specifically at MAYF.
Executive Director Dr. Yahya Suufi extended a warm welcome and was pleased to point out the decorations festooning the interior of the entrance. The strings of LED lights crafted in the shapes of crescent moons and other shapes were punctuated by paper letters declaring “Ramadan Mubarak” or “Blessed Ramadan.” “This is only the beginning of the decorations,” he said. “We will have much more.”
The facility is anchored by a large central gymnasium, which is flanked on one side by Mosque spaces used for the various prayer times throughout the day. Suufi introduced Operations Director Edward Davis, who was tasked with answering questions during the visit. He warmly shared that they are “proud to be part of this community, they are open to everybody and want to be a positive part of the city.”
“We are mainly Muslim serving, but everything aside from the Mosques is for the community,” said Davis. Youth visit daily to play sports, stay safe and free from problematic activities in their home neighborhoods like drugs or alcohol. Currently the center is serving both families and businesses as a hub for information and assistance in accessing programs such as the Washington State Department of Commerce Business Innovation Fund and the Working Families Tax Credit. In addition, the Center recently staged a “Pre-Ramadan Bazaar” highlighting women owned businesses, a further effort to build community and outreach. As Davis indicated, these programs and the assistance are open to all – whether a member of the Muslim community or not.
Davis, who was originally from the Midwest in the United States, converted to Islam about 20 years ago and credits his conversion with lifting him from a nihilistic lifestyle. He describes a transformation that has changed him into a family man who enjoys a peaceful, ordinary life. He exudes a calm demeanor even when interrupted by youth needing help with a laptop, finding a cart or setting up email.
We set about discussing Ramadan in general terms.
“It’s a 30-day journey that begins with piety and ends with gratitude,” Davis said. “Muslims abstain from eating and drinking from sunrise until sundown, and during the day engage in worship and reflection.”
According to Davis, empathy for those who do not have food to eat or other basic needs met is a logical byproduct of the spiritual practice, along with a greater appreciation for what is present in our lives – that’s the gratitude. A clear mind or “mental clarity” were other themes shared as benefits of the holy month.
“It is a blessed, beautiful month, universally loved by Muslims,” he said. “Just ask any Muslim and you will see a look of adoration as they talk about it.”
In response to a question about how Ramadan may be different here in South King County, Davis became animated with enthusiasm.
“Yes, it is different, in that the diversity here is amazing. Somali, Ethiopian, North African, Arab Muslims and American converts all come together, but they also have cultural uniqueness.”
Along with fasting, Ramadan also includes plenty of food as the fast is broken after sundown.
“We have food here everyday and any member of the community is welcome. There is always enough,” Davis said, while also qualifying that guests need to be sober as prescribed by Islam out of respect and safety.
A particularly treasured Ramadan memory for Davis was during his time living in Saudi Arabia, a period of about five years.
“While visiting Medina, Saudi Arabia I remember going into this gigantic Mosque at sundown, where everywhere there were people with tablecloths spread out on the floor. There was food from all over the world. Everyone wants you to come sit with them. Everywhere in the Mosque there is a great sense of unity, generosity and acceptance.:
When asked how can non-Muslims support their Muslim friends or colleagues during this holy time, Davis simply advised:
“Just continue being a friend and colleague. Be accepting and respectful.”
His favorite resource to point non-Muslims who would like to learn more? Davis recommends looking at the work of Yusuf Estes, a Texas convert to Islam who runs www.guideus.tv.