Each time Mary Jane Schneider attends the Mosque Foundation of Bridgeview's annual Ramadan Community Dinner, she learns something different.
The teacher aide at Simmons Middle School joined other staff members from Ridgeland School District 122 at Tuesday night's iftar.
"(The district is) so multicultural; we enjoy coming and learning about the different cultures," Schneider said. "It's such a wonderful opportunity for all of us. This is beautiful."
Mahasen Odeh, a District 122 teacher and a longtime mosque member, said the foundation tries to reach out to the community during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month.
"We're trying to inform the people about the Muslim religion and fasting. There is a big (Muslim) population that lives there," she said of the Bridgeview area.
Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset during Ramadan, which began Sept. 13 and is expected to end Oct. 12 with the sighting of the new moon.
By abandoning earthly necessities, Muslims believe they gain an increased compassion for those in need, a sense of self-purification and reflection and a renewed focus on spirituality. Ramadan commemorates the time the Quran was delivered to the Prophet Muhammad in the 7th century.
Invitations to the Bridgeview mosque's dinner go out to churches, school districts, local and state elected officials and community groups, said the mosque's president, Zaher Sahloul, a physician.
"Ten years ago, someone came up with the idea that we (Muslims) are working and praying and don't have a chance to network as a community with our neighbors," he said.
But over plates of rice, lamb, chicken and salad, Tuesday's dinner gave members of the mosque an opportunity to socialize.
Guests speakers also talked about the importance of Muslims caring for the environment. (MORE)