Faith amid violence

Iman Sheikh Yaqoob leads the Eid al-Fitr service at the Central Mosque of Charleston.

More than 600 worshippers converged at the Central Mosque of Charleston Wednesday morning. It was the largest crowd congregant Ruby Abid had ever seen celebrating the end of Ramadan with the Eid al-Fitr prayer service at the modest Upper King Street mosque.

Men and women entered through separate doors and slipped off their shoes before stepping into the prayer hall, where Imad Musallam sang a devotional in Arabic: “God is great. All praise belongs to him.”

Iman Sheikh Yaqoob’s prayer started promptly at 9 a.m.

Eid, he reminded the hundreds gathered on the floor of the mosque, “symbolizes unity.” And Islam, he said, is a religion of mercy and forgiveness.

“Allah says in his own Quran on behalf of the Prophet Mohammed, ‘Peace be upon him,’ ” Yaqoob intoned. “Islam calls for peaceful coexistence with others and never advocates for violence.”

Yaqoob delivered his sermon at trying time for Muslims all over the globe. The Muslim holy month of Ramadan ended this week amid waves of carnage perpetuated by Islamic extremists worldwide.

On June 12, a gunman who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State killed 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

In the weeks that followed, terrorists killed and wounded hundreds of others in attacks in Jordan, Yemen, Lebanon, Turkey, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia.

In the Saudi Arabian city of Medina, a suicide bomber struck the mosque where the Prophet Mohammed is buried.

All told, nearly 350 people lost their lives during Islam’s most sacred month of the lunar calendar for the globe’s 1.6 billion Muslims.

“It’s so disturbing,” said Reshma Khan at Wednesday’s service. “During the month of Ramadan, especially in Medina, one of the most holiest places for us, it’s just beyond our comprehension that somebody could do that. (That) even Muslims could do that to their own brothers. That just proves they are not Muslims.”

For 30 days during Ramadan, faithful Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. One of the Five Pillars of Islam, abstaining from food, drink and worldly pleasures, like smoking and sex, is meant to draw worshippers closer to God.

For Muslims like Khan, violence committed in the name of Islam is at odds with the tenets of their faith, especially during Ramadan.

“In Ramadan, it’s (about) extra charity, extra good work. The mosques are packed with extra worshipers. We are constantly praying. We are constantly trying to honor good deeds. We are constantly trying to get closer to God almighty,” Khan said. “This is the worst time that anyone could think of doing bad to anyone.”

This past year’s spate of global terror has also coincided with a surge in anti-Muslim rhetoric and hate crimes against Muslims in the United States, according to a report by Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.

In his sermon Wednesday, Yaqoob alluded to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump who last December called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” in the wake of the San Bernardino terrorist attack.

“We hope that those who are not sharing with our faith to be fair to Muslims and Islam and not to listen to those who deliberately want to distort Islam and its people,” Yaqoob said. “We (as) Muslims call for good, peace and harmony for all.”

At the end of the service, hundreds of worshipers hugged, kissed and wished one another “Eid Mubarak,” or “Blessed Eid,” while children scrambled to open their presents and munch on candy.

“Things are getting a little more difficult day by day,” Abid said. “Why is it always us who has to pay for things? We didn’t do anything and we try do the best and contribute to America, but again, that’s (the way) things are.”

Reach Deanna Pan at 843-937-5764.