The third annual Biddeford community iftar took place on March 30 after being delayed one week. Eloise Goldsmith photo

BIDDEFORD – When Eisha Khan first moved to Biddeford at the end of 2019, she didn’t know many Muslims in Maine – so she was thrilled when she happened to meet a Muslim family, at Target of all places, who invited her over to celebrate Ramadan.

“They were like, ‘just come over!’ We didn’t even know each other,” she recalled with a smile. But that’s the spirit of Ramadan: “generosity, giving and community building.”

Considered one of the holiest times in the Islamic calendar, the month of Ramadan is celebrated throughout the Muslim world through daily fasting, prayer and communal meals – called iftars – to break the fast.

Khan knew she couldn’t be the only one who wanted to celebrate Ramadan with the wider community, so she and her partner, Biddeford City Councilor Liam LaFountain, began organizing a yearly

Eisha Kahn and her partner Liam LaFountain pose for a portrait in downtown Biddeford on Tuesday, March 11. For the third year in a row the couple organized a community iftar dinner in Biddeford to celebrate Ramadan. Kahn, who grew up in a large Muslim community in Houston, said the dinner builds connections between different Muslim communities in Maine that are often separated by language, as well as between those who observe Ramadan and people who are not Muslim. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Biddeford community iftar. Now in its third year, the iftar has become a community mainstay. The event, which took place this past Saturday at Southern Maine Health Care, was a warm celebration of togetherness, a reminder that social justice is core to Islam – and a testament to Maine’s growing multiculturalism.

Biddeford High School student Rafah Shakir, who attended the iftar, said that Biddeford has changed a lot since she first arrived in 2016 from Iraq. In 2016, “there were like a couple of kids that (were) Muslim that you could see. But in recent years, it’s definitely changed. Like the past few years, we’ve had so many kids from so many different cultures,” she said.


As of 2020, there were nearly 17,000 Muslims living in Maine, according to data collected by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies. They estimate that Muslims made up .1% of Maine’s population in 2010, but 1.2% as of 2020.

Eight-year-old Syed-Fariq Abdullah, who sang the call to prayer before the meal, said he has also noticed the growing presence of Muslims in the area. With the help of his sister translating, he said that seeing so many Muslims at the iftar made him feel happy to celebrate Ramadan. He’s even been participating in daily fasts. “He’s trying his best,” according to his sister, Syeda Washima Fairoz.

8-year-old Syed-Fariq Abdullah of Biddeford recited the call to prayer before the meal. Eloise Goldsmith photo

“I just like it. Fasting is actually good for your body,” he said.

The iftar drew Muslim leaders from around the state including Maine House Rep Mana Abdi (D-Lewiston) and Portland City Councilor Pious Ali. State Senator Henry Ingwersen (D-York) attended, as did former House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, and Saco Mayor Jodi MacPhail. MacPhail said she was honored and blessed to be there. “This is such a wonderful community.”

After the meal was served, Khan hosted a panel – which featured Rep. Abdi, Adilah Muhammad, and Amran Osman – to honor the contributions of Muslim women to the community.

All three speakers discussed how their faith motivates them to do work that helps others.


“Islam is a very action-oriented faith,” explained Muhammad, who runs The Third Place, an organizational collaborative and coworking space for Black Mainers. “To be Muslim isn’t just to be one who prays five times a day and follows the rules of Islam.”

“Faith is an essential component of how we build community, and in my work, bringing people together and getting to know each other is an act of faith … service is my way of acting out my faith each and every day,” she said.

Osman, who runs Generational Noor, which provides support to immigrant and BIPOC people seeking substance abuse disorder treatment, said her faith has been “the number one guiding source” for the work that she does.

Coincidentally, an act of service had already happened in the lead up to the iftar. Food for the evening was provided by Jaffa Mediterranean Grill, a local outfit in South Portland. When the original iftar was delayed a week because of a recent ice storm, the food prepared for the original date was donated to the neighborhood group Seeds of Hope, which serves the homeless in Biddeford.

Tareq Zayed, the general manager and owner of Jaffa Mediterranean Grill took the mic and thanked LaFountain and Khan for hosting the event – and announced that the restaurant is opening a new location in Falmouth.

He also included a mention of the dire humanitarian crisis affecting Muslims (and non-Muslims) in the Gaza Strip, which is currently under siege by Israel.


“Let’s remember our people who are poor, (who) don’t have any food at the end of the day,” he said. “Let’s remember everyone who is in need everywhere in the world, especially our brothers and sisters in Palestine.”

House Rep. Mana Abdi also acknowledged the suffering in Gaza – but the heaviness taking place halfway around the world did not diminish the warmth of the evening.

“(When) I came to Maine in 2009, this was not a thing,” Abdi said of the community iftar.

“Our community is only going to get wider and more accepting and more beautiful,” she said.

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