TAMPA — Dodging the rain, a few families and customers gathered inside Petra Restaurant on Busch Boulevard. Around 8:30 p.m., the adham (or call to prayer) music begins, signaling Iftar, the end of the daily fast. Customers grabbed a plate to dig into the feast.
Petra, which specializes in Mediterranean cuisine, is one of many local eateries that offers a special buffet during Ramadan, the holy month of fasting which ends this weekend.
The restaurant's financial boost from the nightly buffet is just one way that Ramadan, though a religious holiday, has an economic ripple effect in Tampa Bay. Other examples range from increased spending at Muslim-owned shops and hookah lounges to more charitable giving.
The Islamic Society of Tampa Bay area in Temple Terrace — which houses a mosque, a free health clinic, a school and a multipurpose building — is a local focal point of economic and religious activity.
"In urban centers that offer halal products, they do quite well because there is a market for purchasing those products," said Nader Hashemi, director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Denver.
Sean Snaith, an economist at the University of Central Florida, said the economic impact of Ramadan is two sided.
While fasting can create a "potential loss of spending," the breaking of the fast can provide an economic boost, Snaith said. Charities also count on an influx of donations, perhaps for as much as a third of their annual revenue.
Traditionally, Muslims gather in their homes, community centers and mosques to "break bread." This communal setting affords an economic hike with the purchase and consumption of food, specifically halal foods. Spending also increases as people buy gifts and other items in celebration of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan.
Aside from certain clusters such as north Tampa, "Ramadan has a small impact on the overall Tampa economy because of the small portion of Muslims in the community," Snaith said. There are around 125,000 to 150,000 Muslims in the Tampa Bay area, according to estimate from the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Florida.
Local Mediterranean markets stock up on specialty items such as dates, dried apricots, lamb, chicken, and kataif, a pastry stuffed with cheese and nuts that can be baked or fried.
The owner of Sultan Mediterranean Market on 40th St. N and Busch Blvd. hopes for an uptick in revenue. Baha Abdallah, 35, said he started to prep for "more traffic" two weeks before the start of the holy month.
The market has been open for four months. He predicts a "good" month but "not as good" as other markets that may have been established longer.
Local mosques must accommodate for more visitors.
The Islamic Society of Tampa Bay allocates $4,500 per weekday and $7,000 for Friday and Saturday for the Iftar celebration, said director Mahmoud Elkasaby. Its budget includes food, fruits, dessert for 1,200 people, plus wages for workers, staff and security. It also rents tents, tables and other equipment.
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The Thonotosassa-based organization, which mainly serves Iftar on the weekend, budgets $4,500 for more than 400 people, said Bilal Saleh, 55, of the Islamic Society of New Tampa.
Charitable giving is a major component of Ramadan.
CAIR Florida, a civil rights nonprofit headquartered in Tampa raises one-third of its budget during the holy month. "Without the generous jump start of Ramadan, we wouldn't be able to do what we do," Hassan Shibly, 30, the chief executive director, said.
The goal this year is to raise $500,000, Shilby said. Last year, the council raised $400,000, up 10-fold from $40,000 raised in 2011. The other portion is fulfilled through annual regional banquets, grants and personal donations.
"The money we raise this year, we will put it right back into the community," the civil rights attorney said. He said the organization will hire more staff and lawyers and continue to expand its services.
CAIR provides pro bono legal assistance for Muslims and non-Muslims. It also works to push back against bigotry, prejudice, injustice, and defend those who face discrimination and harassment.
"My strength as a leader comes from those last ten days of Ramadan," he said, as he explained those are the holiest of all. "I find myself grounded and empowered through (the observation)… It doesn't just have an impact on me, but my ability to serve this community and country."
Contact Tierra Smith at tsmith@ tampabay.com or (414) 702-5006. Follow @bytierrasmith.