During Ramadan, when it’s time for a prayer, Najaat Echchoukeiri quickly washes her hands and leaves the cash register. She pushes open a small door inside Muddy Waters Coffee House on Valencia Street, where she’s a manager, and runs downstairs to pray alone in the office.
Iman Choudhary does the same in the back room of his 16th Street shop, Cyber Copy and Design. “Here you can’t close to go pray,” said Choudhary. Instead he tries to squeeze in all five daily prayers during business hours. “I always miss one.”
Many Muslim store owners and managers in the Mission District seemed to agree: Ramadan, Islam’s holy ninth month, feels quiet here, they said.
In a neighborhood that has no mosque and largely does not celebrate the holiday, it is impossible to find the community bustle Muslim immigrants associate with Ramadan, the 30 days in which the first verses of the Qu’ran were revealed to Mohammad.
“At home it’s different because spirituality is high,” said Choudhary. “Here I don’t feel the spirituality.”
“There’s an atmosphere here where you go home and cook for yourself, and you just eat whatever,” Echchoukeiri shrugged.
Ramadan begins about 10 days earlier each year, so it is not constrained to a particular season. It is a time for extra prayer and daily fasting, and for Muslims to get together with families, forgive friends, and purge themselves of impurities such as dirty thoughts and bad language. This year it began on Aug. 22 and ends Sept. 20.
In countries like Morocco, where Echchoukeiri was born and the population is predominantly Muslim, families traditionally break fast together, sharing a large meal after sundown on each evening of Ramadan.
According to a 2007 Pew Research Center survey, Muslim adults make up about 0.6 percent of the United States population, approximately 1.5 million. In 2004, there were more than 200,000 Muslims in the Bay Area, Helal Omeira from the Council on American-Islamic Relations told the San Francisco Chronicle.
Arafat “Art” Herzallah, manager of the Pork Store Café on 16th and Valencia streets, remembers how “beautiful” Ramadan was when it fell during summer in Jordan. “Businesses are open all night long. People stay up together until the morning to do morning prayer, and then go to bed.”
Observing Ramadan isn’t always easy in the Mission, Choudhary said. “You don’t feel pure because you are still in that polluted environment.”
“Ramadan is a chance to reconnect with God through prayer,” said Khaled Olaibah, imam assistant at the Islamic Society of San Francisco in the Tenderloin, which houses the mosque Masjid Darussalam. “You cleanse your mind, you eyes, your ears, hands, feet, tongue.”
Ramjan Ali, who lives in Daly City and manages Pakwan Restaurant on 16th Street, said, “For me it’s not a problem to pray anywhere you can. You can pray in the road.”
“In Islam you speak to God directly, so you can pray at home,” Olaibah added. “It’s the same result.”
Several Muslims interviewed work in the Mission but live in South San Francisco and Daly City, where there is a larger Muslim community. In the evenings they sometimes go to mosque near home or congregate at one of the three large mosques in downtown San Francisco.
During Ramadan, Masjid Darussalam holds the compulsory five daily prayers. Each evening a juz, a section of 1/30th of the Qur’an, is recited. The Qur’an has been recited in its entirety by the month’s end.
The mosque also holds a daily Iftar, or breaking of the fast meal, after the evening prayer, Magrib. Fasting during Ramadan is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, required of all healthy Muslims. People come to break their fast with traditional milk and dates, always eaten in odd numbers to represent the singularity of Allah.
Herzallah, who sometimes attends Masjid Darussalam, said that in Jordan everyone fasts together, which makes the experience easier. “Next year I’d like to go back home where I don’t feel out of place. Everyone understands you’re not as productive when the whole country is accustomed to this.”
At Muddy Waters, Echchoukeiri echoed his sentiment. She must arrive at work at 3:30 a.m., so she often goes to bed early. In the mosque, nighttime prayer ends around 11 p.m., so she often prays alone in the evenings. “When you’re by yourself you must do all the effort. When you go to mosque, the imam prays and leads.” Echchoukeiri said she would like to return to Morocco next Ramadan to be with family.
Ramadan concluded Sunday with a daylong festival known as Eid ul-Fitr.