YORK COUNTY, SC — In a small storefront on Cherry Road, dozens of people filed into a room divided in two by a partial wall.
They left their shoes at the door, placed dishes of hot, homemade food on a table and embraced each other, patting children on the head, smiling and saying, “Salam,” kissing cheeks.
The men stayed on one side of the wall, the women on the other. Small children ran back and forth between the two groups. They smiled and chatted as they ate large dates and fried dough, the first food they’d allowed themselves all day.
This was the beginning of the daily ritual of iftar, or the breaking of the fast on each day during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday during Ramadan, the Islamic community of York County gather at the current home of the Islamic Center of South Carolina to break the fast together.
“It’s a celebration for us,” said Hosne Begum, a resident of Rock Hill, of the holiday.
Ramadan, which follows the lunar calendar, consists of a month of fasting, with observant Muslims abstaining from eating or drinking from sundown to sunset for 30 days.
“The main reason is to remember the poor people so we can feel how they feel,” explained Boshra Alghatany, a 25-year-old Winthrop University graduate student.
There are exceptions to the fasting requirement. Pregnant women, the elderly and those who are ill are among those who don’t have to fast. Young children also are excused. But Begum said she started fasting when she was 6 and living in her native Bangladesh. She said Ramadan was her favorite time of year, and fasting wasn’t a challenge.
“That’s the strength we get from our religion,” Begum said. “It’s from our spirit.”
Tulfoza Khanani, another Rock Hill resident, said the key is keeping busy.
“If you keep busy, then it’s OK, then the time goes fast,” she said.
A day of Ramadan is long. Many wake around 4:30 a.m. to eat before sunrise.
At sundown, gathered in the location on Cherry Road for iftar, the attendees eat a small snack before an evening prayer. Then, they share in a potluck dinner full of exotic dishes, such as sweet rice and spicy meatballs and sit and socialize until 10 p.m., when an imam, or religious leader, arrives to lead another prayer and to read sections of the Koran, the holy book of Islam, until midnight.
Throughout the month of Ramadan, Muslims read or listen to the entire Koran.
“We love it, we love it,” Begun said of the busy month.
This year, Ramadan began July 8 and will end Aug. 7. Since Ramadan follows the lunar calendar, it moves 10 days earlier every year, meaning that next year, it will start at the end of June.
Ramadan concludes with Eid al-Fitr, a feast and celebration of the end of the holiday.
Attending an iftar meal at the Islamic Center of South Carolina isn’t a typical gathering of Rock Hill-area residents; it’s like taking a trip around the world. The individuals and families at the center are from across the globe, from countries such as Pakistan, Uganda and Saudi Arabia.
Begum said this diversity shows that no matter where they’re all from, some things unite all people.
As they cleaned up from the meal and sat waiting for the evening prayer, the group chatted in Arabic and English. Young children moved from lap to lap. Khanani held someone’s baby and tickled her feet. Alghatany leaned against a wall and laughed at something another woman said. Begum sat in a chair, looking out over the group and smiling contentedly.
“It doesn’t matter what other languages we speak all the time,” she said. “Here, we’re together.”
The Islamic Center’s new home, called the Masjid Al-Salam, is set to open in downtown Rock Hill within the next few weeks. The group had hoped to have it completed by the start of Ramadan, but persistent wet weather has delayed the completion.