Every year that the Elasses go to the Eid Al-Fitr celebrations at the DC Armory, it feels like a reunion with long-lost friends. At the Eid Al-Fitr services, the Vienna family catches up with acquaintances while worshipping with the metropolitan region's Muslim community.
"It's a blessing to go because you meet so many people," said Fadwa Hinedi, who attended the celebration with her husband, Tareck Elass, and their children, Dara, 14, Majed, 12, and Adam, 10.
To mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan, over 10,000 people from the Washington region gathered together and attended prayer services at the DC Armory on Tuesday, Nov. 25 to celebrate Eid Al-Fitr, or 'The Festival of Fast-Breaking.' The day began with special morning prayers and continued with visits to elderly family and friends. Also at the festival was a bazaar, moon bounces and merry-go-rounds for children, and a blood drive.
"This is the day when the community gets together," said Fairfax resident Deirdre Ritchie, who attended the celebrations at the DC Armory with her two daughters and her father.
Among those thousands of people were families from all over northern Virginia. The celebrations on Nov. 25th were sponsored by the Sterling-based ADAMS Center, Dar Al-Hijrah, Masjid Muhammad, Manassas Mosque and the Muslim Association of Virginia.
By having one celebration for the area's Muslims, the services at the DC Armory touch upon the three complementary aspects of Islam, explained Ritchie. They are to focus on the individual, the community and country or the brotherhood of humanity.
"The time itself is considered blessed and sacred and holy," Ritchie said.
EID AL-FITR BREAKS the fast Muslims observed during the month of Ramadan. During the month, Muslims fast in the daytime in order to honor the revelations the prophet Muhammed had received from God. Those revelations formed their holy book, the Quran.
"The most important thing about this month is that the Quran was revealed in this month," Hinedi said.
This year, Ramadan was held for 30 days in November. The period when Ramadan occurs varies each year depending on the lunar calendar.
"It's really a time of reflection, a time of increased prayer, a time of reading the Quran," Ritchie said.
Through abstaining from food, drink and sexual relations throughout the day, Muslims hope to understand better the plight of the poor while also cleansing themselves of bad habits or thoughts. Once the day is over, Muslims break the fast with dates, soup, or a light meal.
"It's about appreciation, being thankful for what you have," said Nizam Ozgur, owner and chef of Nizam's Restaurant in Vienna. During Ramadan, they often serve lamb after the light meal that breaks the fast, which is part of Turkish custom.
The next day begins again with a pre-dawn meal and special prayers, follows with fasting, and ends with a Call to Prayer at sunset.
"You feel for the poor people who have no food. They see people eating in front of them," said Dara Elass, a freshman at Marshall High School.
The month with its extra commitment to prayer is also a time to re-evaluate one's actions throughout the year and to become closer with God. In addition to fasting, Muslims read portions of the Quran every day, practice charity and seek out family and friends.
"The emphasis is always on mercy," Hinedi said.
Within the month, Muslims focus on different aspects of their relationship with God. The first 10 days reflect upon God's mercy, forgiveness and protection. The last 10 days of Ramadan are considered the holiest, because it is during that time that the prophet Muhammed received the revelations from God. On one of the odd-numbered evenings, the Lailat ul-Qadr or 'Night of Power,' Muslims mark the anniversary when Muhammed received God's revelations through the angel Gabriel. To mark this night, families attend additional prayers at the mosque, starting at 3:30 a.m. or earlier.
"The characteristic of this night is peace," said Ritchie.
THE FIRST DAY of the next month after Ramadan is the day of Eid Al-Fitr, which calls for community-wide celebrations and greetings of Eid Mubarak ("Blessed Eid") or taqabbalallah ta'atakum ("may God accept your deeds") to fellow Muslims.
"When I heard it was going to be on Tuesday, I was jumping around. I was so excited," said Majed Elass, who attends the New School of Northern Virginia in Fairfax. Besides missing school on Tuesday because of Eid Al-Fitr, he would have no school for the remainder of the week because of Thanksgiving.
After the Elasses left the DC Armory, they went to get lunch at Subway, rented movies at Blockbuster and ate another meal at Outback Steakhouse. Unlike past years where the children received presents, this year for them was a more somber celebration, due to the war in Iraq and the extra security measures the United States had taken to prevent another 9/11. They hoped that non-Muslims would seek to understand Islam, instead of casting a discriminatory eye on its adherents.
"Anything that isn't clear, I would encourage them to come and ask," Hinedi said. "A story always has two sides."