Muslims in Maine and throughout the world celebrated the end of Ramadan on Tuesday, but for people from Somalia, the Eid al-Fitr was tinged with sadness because of the famine in their homeland.

The East African nation is wracked by its worst drought in 60 years, which is causing mass starvation. Ongoing civil conflict has hampered efforts to get food to many affected areas. The crisis was driven home on a personal level during Ramadan, when Muslims are required to fast from sunrise to sunset.

“That was true especially after the sunset, after you break your fast, you get full of food and you know people are starving,” said Abdikadir Noor.

People from Somalia – perhaps 5,000 in Portland – make up the largest single group of Muslims in the state. Throughout Ramadan, spiritual leaders urged people to keep those less fortunate in mind. The prayers held for hundreds of Muslims at the Portland Sports Complex on Warren Avenue on Tuesday were no exception.

“The imams were saying today, ‘We have our fridge full of food. We have to think about the people who don’t have any,’ ” said Noor, who gathered with friends at a home off Eben Hill Drive in Portland for the holiday celebration.

On the table in front of him were boxes of pizza and a plate of confections, including a jellied treat called xalwad and a crispy cookie called kackac, as well as cake and sugar cookies.

Eid al-Fitr is a celebration in which people wear fine clothes and children get gifts throughout the day. At the party on Eben Hill Drive, young girls frolicked in brightly colored dresses and head scarves.

“It’s a happiness and an emotional sadness all mixed up,” said Yasin Atoor, 50, who was dressed in a crisp white qamiis, or tunic, with a black and white scarf on his shoulders and a white kufi on his head.

In Islam, Ramadan represents the month when the Koran was revealed to Mohammed. The fasting is intended to promote spirituality and encourage Muslims to be humble.

“The wisdom of fasting is to feel that sense of someone who doesn’t have food,” said Suleyman Barre, a community leader who is involved in raising money to help ease the famine. “Helping poor people is one of the major features of Ramadan.”

The situation in Somalia is dire. People in drought-ravaged areas have walked hundreds of miles in search of food and water. Many do not survive.

“Ramadan is over now, but we do have that experience of the past 29 days we were fasting,” said Hamza Haadoow, chairman of the Somali Community Resource Center. “There is no day passing that we do not think about how the famine is affecting those back home in Somalia. It is a tragedy. More than 40,000, just the children, have passed away in a couple of months.”

Noor learned recently that a friend who drives a cab in Portland lost his sister when she died trying to reach a refugee camp.

Mohamud Barre, secretary of the Somali Culture and Development Association of Maine, said every Somali in the city knows someone who is affected by the famine. That makes the religious observance more poignant and powerful.

“God asks us to feel the hunger,” Barre said. “People are like more aware during Ramadan because those people (in Somalia) they are not even expecting food. The people over here are more worried because right now they have been fasting and they are hungry and weak, and they are comparing themselves to people over there.”

Muslims are expected to donate to charity during Ramadan, and at the conclusion. Volunteers walked through the Portland Sports Complex on Tuesday with a collection box. Much of the money raised will be donated to the American Red Cross, which is working closely with the Red Crescent Society in Somalia, said Haadoow. Members of the Somali community also plan several fundraisers next month.

 

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: [email protected]