Children who live near the St. Petersburg Islamic Center, on the edge of Childs Park, may not be Muslim, but they'll be invited to the mosque's celebration when Ramadan ends a month from now.
Ramadan, the holiest month for Muslims, begins this week and is observed with fasting, abstinence, penitence, prayer and good works. The period will culminate with Eid al-Fitr, a three-day festival during which families and communities gather to enjoy carnivals, savor special foods and exchange gifts.
For the past two years, the St. Petersburg Islamic Center has made it a point to invite its neighbors in the Childs Park and Twin Brooks neighborhoods for the festive post-Ramadan activities.
"We want the people to understand that this center is in this community for their benefit. We don't want them to see it as something foreign,'' said Wilmore Sadiki, 60, the center's imam, or prayer leader.
Last year, the center gave away backpacks, school supplies, toys and 25 new bicycles to mosque and neighborhood kids. Sadiki, who lives in Clearwater, said the giveaway is part of the Islamic center's effort to integrate into the community. The mosque has also become part of the area's neighborhood watch and joined the local NAACP branch, he said. It has offered tutoring for schoolchildren for three years. Sadiki said the past year's efforts have been funded by the Eckerd Foundation and Juvenile Welfare Board.
In another effort to be community friendly, the center, at 3762 18th Ave. S, changed its name from Masjid Al-Mu'minin (the Believers Mosque) to the St. Petersburg Islamic Center.
Its 120 or so members come from around the world, including Arab countries, the Caribbean, Africa, India and Pakistan. Each week, worshipers travel from Tampa and various parts of Pinellas County for 1:30 p.m. juma, or Friday prayers. Sadiki, who usually gives the afternoon kutbah, or talk on the Koran, said he has spent recent Fridays helping worshipers prepare for Ramadan.
"I try to emphasize to them the reason for Ramadan is that it's not a dietary type of thing where you go to lose weight for all the stuff you've been doing all year. It's to learn to practice self-restraint. I try to get them pumped up,'' he said.
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 892-2283.