NEWARK -- A prayer service commemorating the end of Ramadan, Islam's holy month of fasting, was winding down Thursday morning when, suddenly, a smiling toddler bounded joyously toward the podium, drawing small giggles before rejoining the large crowd.
The warm family moment was completely unexpected, but wholly appropriate for Eid al-Fitr, an annual Muslim holy day in which relatives and friends give thanks in a celebratory feast, after completing the monthlong observance. Nearly 400 people celebrated Eid al-Fitr on Thursday at Newark's Silliman Center, where a 30-minute prayer service was followed by a party offering food, drinks and games.
"This is a day of pride and generosity," said Mohammad Imad, a Fremont resident who was born in Pakistan. "It's a day of letting go of differences, of teaching children to be proud to be Muslims."
The festivities featured Muslim families eating and talking together. While parents doted on young children, teenagers went into a separate room, where they played billiards and air hockey and snacked on sweets. Worshipers exchanged embraces and the customary greeting of "Eid mubarak" -- which, roughly translated, means "Happy joyous day."
Ramadan this year began July 8, and ended at sundown Wednesday. During the traditional monthlong observance, Muslims fast during daylight, going without food or water from dawn to sunset. For sustenance, worshipers must rise early to eat before dawn.
Imad, an engineer at a Mountain View software company, said he enjoys fasting because it reminds him to value other things beyond his career and the fast pace of modern life. "We have these good tech jobs and we may think we're special, but when you skip meals it forces you to slow down," he said. "I find that it humbles me."
Zain Ali, a Tri-City-area accountant who helped organize the Eid al-Fitr gathering, marveled at the crowd's diversity. "It's amazing to see so many Muslims here from different ethnic backgrounds," said Ali, who worships at Al-Medina Education Center, a Newark religious school and mosque.
The Al-Medina Education Center collects food throughout the year, and then donates it to the hungry, he said.
Giving generously to those who are less fortunate is part of Ramadan's tradition, said Mohamad Rajabally, a Newark dentist who volunteers and worships at Al-Medina.
"We are so grateful to live here in the land of the plenty," said Rajabally, who grew up on Mauritius, a small African island east of Madagascar. "Giving to those who in need, that's the money that has the highest value. That's what we learn from Ramadan, and we should remember that over the next 11 months."
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.