CHINO - When the sun finally sets and the fast of Ramadan ends for the day, Luqman Malik joins the faithful at the Baitul Hameed Mosque for a feast of chicken, rice, potatoes. And Mexican food.
Islam is a tapestry, Imam Shamshad A. Nasir says, a religion that attracts men and women of many cultures. More Latinos are embracing the faith, said Hussam Ayloush, a Corona man who is spokesman for the Southern California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. While he has has no exact numbers, he said the shift is clear.
"Go to the mosque in downtown L.A. and you'll see a large number of Latinos," he said. "People are seeking a place where they feel the spirit of peace." He said they are willing to make sacrifices to find that peace. That includes Latinos like Malik, a Catholic by birth, who found solace in Islam in the days after Sept. 11, 2001.
He was in college, and didn't like the way his Muslim friends were being treated. "People were saying they were not good people," he said. "That's not true." It made him want to learn more about Islam, and he found himself drawn to its teachings and traditions. After much study and thought, the 26-year-old Chino man decided to convert. Malik comes from a traditional Catholic family.
"When I told my mom, she was like, `I don't see it,"' he said. "I actually had to move out of the house. My brothers and sisters were not pleased. I left home to make it easier."
After about a year, his family accepted his conversion. "They saw a transformation in my life," he said. "I married just the past year, to a very traditional Muslim lady." Malik has embraced his new religion, including the monthlong fast of Ramadan, when all but the young, sick, pregnant, nursing or those on a journey are expected to abstain from food and water from sunrise to sunset.
Malik said it isn't easy. An inspector for an aerospace company, Malik says he likes to work out and usually drinks plenty of water each day.
"My first year, it was pretty rough," he said. "Now I accept it." Nasir said it is not supposed to be easy. "This is called sacrifice," he said.
Nasir said Ramadan is a time of reflection. "The idea is to spend as much time at the mosque as possible - to pray and to learn," he said. "To study and be peaceful, because this is the purpose of the Ramadan."
During Ramadan, the mosque is the focus of the faithful. Every evening they gather for the prayer that breaks the fast. Then as many as 300 men and women will gather in separate areas of the Chino mosque to eat the meal prepared by a different family each night. There will be more prayers later and a talk given by Nasir on a different religious topic each night. But for about 40 minutes, the faithful fill empty bellies and rejoice at the simple goodness of hot meal. Nasir said it is a joyous time.
"We feel happy we have done something for God," he said. "We are obeying the command of God, so it makes me happy."