I sat in the back of the gym at the Fairview Recreation Center on Friday, counting the people lined up for prayers at Anchorage's Eid Day, the Muslim holiday that marks the end of Ramadan. Four hundred. Five hundred. Maybe, with children, close to 600.
I went to a similar gathering five years ago, then the group in the gym had been half the size. I tried to place the types of dress around me in the women's section. African women with their hair piled high, heads covered in jewel tone cloths. A rainbow of saris and scarves I guessed might be from Pakistan, India or Bangladesh. A kimono-type dress from Malaysia. A dark chador I thought might be from Iran. The room quieted down. I was sitting next to a woman in red sari, her wrist painted with a henna vine. When she moved, her gold bracelets jingled softly.
"Eid Mubarak," she said, meaning, "may you enjoy a blessed festival."
I was invited to the ceremony by Lamin Jobarteh and Sam Obeidi, the president and vice president of the Islamic Community Center of Anchorage Alaska. I know Jobarteh, who is originally from Gambia, from the years he worked at Wells Fargo bank. This year he opened a halal grocery in a strip mall off International Airport Road, selling meat butchered according to Muslim tradition and specialty foods from Africa and the Middle East. I knew Obeidi, who is originally Palestinian, from my previous Eid story. He owns a frame shop on Arctic Boulevard. They wanted me to come to Eid this year, they told me, because they wanted me to write about how their community is growing and complex, and about how they have experienced Anchorage as a welcoming place. . .
"Our positive experience (in Anchorage) far outweighs our negative experience," Jobarteh said.
But as we talked, it was clear they were aware, and not happy with, the portrayal of Muslims as un-American. "I have two boys that are born in Alaska. Providence Hospital," Obeidi said.
"My wife is in the military and she loves this country," Jobarteh added.
They believe Islam is being misrepresented, and they're trying to correct that by setting a good example in Anchorage, they said, welcoming of people with different religious beliefs, doing good work in the community.
"We want to spread the true word of Islam," Obeidi said. "Not Fox News Islam." (More)