In a handful of houses scattered across town, Missoula's Muslim community is celebrating the holy month of Ramadan.
There is no mosque, no holy place for worship here, but there is fellowship among the 200-some international students and longtime Missoula residents who embrace the teachings of the Quran.
For 30 days, from Sept. 13 to Oct. 12, they gather together to pray five times a day and to share one another's company at sunset for the day's last prayer and to break their 14-hour fast with dates and water.
These keepers of Islam come from faraway places like Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Burma, Egypt, Morocco and Indonesia. Yet no matter how far they travel from their families and communities, they are never far from God.
To be a Muslim is to have a direct link to Allah, explained Khaled Huthaily, a University of Montana graduate student from Yemen.
Ramadan, the 30-day month of fasting and intensive worship, he said, not only ensures that relationship between each Muslim and God, but strengthens the spiritual ties.
The holiday always falls in the ninth month of the Muslim lunar calendar, when the new moon appears, said Samir Bitar, a UM professor from Palestine.
“This is a month for fasting body, mind and spirit,” Bitar said. “It is a time to get close to Allah, and the fasting teaches us patience, discipline.”
“During the fast, you experience what it is like to be hungry so you can sympathize with the homeless and others who aren't as fortunate,” he said. “This is a time of year to fully understand mercy - the time of year to truly give and forgive.” (MORE)