By Cathy Lynn Grossman, USA TODAY
Muslims across the country are marking Ramadan, the holiest month of the Islamic year, with charity and outreach programs.
The Council for American-Islamic Relations, the Washington-based advocacy and civil rights group, is urging Muslims to invite their non-Muslim neighbors to join them at an iftar— the evening meal when Muslims break their dawn-to-sunset fast during the 30-day holiday, which began Monday evening.
The idea, says spokesman Ibrahim Hooper, is to increase understanding of Islam by sharing the experience of Ramadan, when Islam's holy scripture, the Quran, was revealed. Observing the fast is one of the five pillars of the faith, along with submission to God, pilgrimage to Mecca, prayer and charity.
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Many Muslims make charitable gifts during the month of Ramadan, and service projects are also popular. This year, hundreds of Muslims around the nation will serve the hungry and homeless at Day of Dignity events in 18 U.S. cities. The events are coordinated by Islamic Relief USA, based in Buena Park, Calif.
Their goal for the events, which start Saturday in Las Vegas and Seattle, is to offer food and winter supplies to 25,000 people, up from 20,000 last year, says spokesman Mostafa Mahboob.
In Seattle, organizer Aziz Junejo says organizers expect to serve meals and distribute supplies such as ponchos, blankets, socks and hygiene kits to 1,000 people at a downtown day-labor center. The event is underwritten by personal donations and 20 area mosques.
"We want to show people respect, not just give them handouts. We take time to talk with them and hear their stories," Junejo says.
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