Nov 032005
Authors: Amber Baker

Members of the Islamic Center of Fort Collins congregated to celebrate the end of the Holy Month of Ramadan Thursday.

The holiday comes after the release of a Council on American-Islamic Relations report stating Muslims nationwide are facing widespread harassment and racism. However, many local Muslims say Fort Collins is a welcoming city.

For Ramadan, Belgasem Belgasem, the president of the Islamic Center, reminded Muslims in a speech to perform good deeds and worship devoutly. They were also encouraged to respect others in spite of differences, seek knowledge and strive to better the community.

Afterward, Muslims socialized and celebrated with a large breakfast of khobuz (a special kind of bread), foole (beans), humus, falafel (a pita of fava beans), baklava (a popular Middle Eastern pastry) and Arabic coffee and tea.

Eid ul-Fitr is the celebration of the end of Ramadan, the month Muslims set aside to practice self control by abstaining from eating, drinking, smoking and sex. They thank God for the strength to exert self-control from these things.

"It's the month that we practice being good," said Yasir Alsaggaf, a junior electrical engineering major and Saudi Arabia native. "It makes us appreciate things more."

Eid is also a time for family members and friends to gather and socialize.

"It's very community-based," said Saeed Alsaeed, a senior computer information systems major. "It's like a big reunion."

During the fast breaking, as with all Muslim social events, the women and men are separated by a thick, floor-to-ceiling curtain that divides the room.

"This does not imply inequality between men and women," said Isra'a Belgasem, a junior child psychology major and secretary of the Muslim Student Association. "But is rather to prevent 'fitna' (temptation) and provides both with a respectful and relaxed atmosphere in which to comfortably socialize and worship."

Such a haven may not be so easy to find in other parts of the country, statistics indicate.

There was a 49 percent increase in the amount of civil rights cases CAIR processed in 2004 from the previous year, the group stated. The alleged violations included "harassment, violence and discriminatory treatment," according to the organization's Web site, and represents the most complaints the group has received in its 11-year history.

Also, reported "actual and potential" violent hate crimes against Muslims nationwide increased 52 percent to 141, up from 93 filed in 2003, the group states.

Leaders of Muslim student groups on campus said the Fort Collins community, and especially CSU, is an exceptionally tolerant environment.

Ramadan Alkhatib, president of the CSU Palestinian Student Association, said although friends, relatives and even his counselor cautioned him against walking alone shortly after the 2001 attacks, he was never the victim of any backlash.

"It's an accepting community," Alkhatib said of Fort Collins. "I did not have any difficulties."

Alkhatib, who is pursuing a doctorate in civil engineering, arrived in Fort Collins in August 2000 and hasn't lived anywhere else in the United States.

Sometimes he felt that people gave him dirty looks and didn't feel comfortable around him, but he wasn't sure if it had to do with him being Muslim. However, inside the CSU campus, all was well.

"The CSU community was much more accepting than Fort Collins," he said. "Inside the campus, everything is fine."

Zaki Safar, vice president of the Muslim Student Association, said this Ramadan has been a particularly memorable one for him.

"The hardest thing about this year's Ramadan for me was how to pray more and increase my Islamic knowledge by reading the Qu'ran and still do well in school," said Safar, junior electrical engineering major. "On the other hand, I think this past Ramadan was more joyful to me because I got to know more wonderful people in our little Fort Collins Muslim community. They made being away from my family during the Eid a lot less difficult than in previous years."

After high school, Safar, 21, was given the opportunity to study overseas with the oil company he worked for in Saudi Arabia as well as choose the country he wanted to study in.

"I chose America because I always heard how nice Americans were," he said, "and I wanted to give the public a better image of Muslims rather than what they get from sources in the media."

Collegian reporter Vimal Patel contributed to this report.

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