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Boston’s Muslim community celebrates Eid in Roxbury

Yawu Miller | 7/30/2014, 11:58 a.m.
An estimated 12,000 worshipers celebrated the holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan at the Islamic Society ...
More than 12,000 worshipers took part in the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center’s observance of Eid al Fitr, the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan. Worshipers attended the mosque in three groups of 4,000. (Banner photo)

The first wave of worshipers came before 7 a.m. Monday, quickly filling the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center. Prayer rugs filled the lobby areas, spreading out to nearly every available square foot of floor space as the mosque reached its 4,000-person capacity.

Men wore suits and ties or the formal dress of their nationalities – Somalis, Nigerians, Saudis, Pakistanis, Ethiopians.

“We stopped counting at 64 nationalities,” said Abdillahi Abdirahman, a Somali business owner and longtime ISB member.

As the first of three successive services began at 7:30, all came to their knees as the muezzin led the Arabic prayer, Allahu Akbar, meaning “God is great.”

In all, 12,000 Muslim men and women passed through the doors of the Roxbury mosque to celebrate Eid al Fitr, the holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

As the prayers came to an end, congregants exiting the mosque warmly greeted each other.

“We’ve come a long way,” said Muhammad Ali Salaam, a longtime member of the Islamic Society of Boston and a former BRA employee who was instrumental in guiding the ISB’s construction process through the city’s bureaucracy.

When Abdirahman first arrived in Boston back in 1983, he and other Somali Muslims met for prayers in a small function room at MIT.

“It was in a basement and it was only on Fridays,” he recalled, standing amid the stream of worshipers at the mosque’s Malcolm X Boulevard entrance.

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A young man adjusts his brother’s head dress before prayers during the Eid al Fitr observance, which marks the end of Ramadan, at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center on Malcolm X Boulevard in Roxbury.

The services were organized by the fledgling ISB, which was founded by students at Harvard, MIT, Boston University and other local colleges.

Later, Abdirahman and other Somalis began worshiping at a small mosque on Shawmut Ave. Others in the Greater Boston area’s growing Muslim community began worshiping in the ISB mosque in Cambridge.

In the late ‘90s the ISB began holding Eid observances at the Reggie Lewis Track and Field facility, filling the indoor track with the faithful. By then African American Muslims joined in the worship with the growing Middle Eastern, African and South Asian communities.

When the ISB mosque opened up across the boulevard from the track in 2009, Eid was held there. Yet Monday, the mosque’s 70,000 square feet of space seemed ill-suited for the 12,000 worshipers. ISB organizers had originally booked the track and football field at nearby Madison Park High School for Eid, but Monday’s rainy forecast foreclosed that option.

The overflow crowds in Roxbury only hint at the growth in the area’s Muslim populations. In recent years, mosques have opened in Quincy, Burlington, Sharon, Wayland, Worcester, Lowell, Springfield and other Massachusetts communities. The ISB’s Roxbury mosque is the largest in New England.

In much of the Muslim world, Eid al Fitr is a three-day holiday, where families spend time together and exchange gifts. Monday, as the Boston Muslims filed out of the mosque, with most heading off to work, Abdirahman lingered, warmly greeting friends.

“It’s a great feeling,” he said. “It’s a wonderful holiday.”