WESTBROOK — Several hundred Muslims celebrated the end of Ramadan at a multinational gathering of immigrants Saturday.

The event featured food, music and other fun. It was intended to give newly arrived Arab immigrants a chance to celebrate the way they did back in their home countries, said Zoe Sahloul, executive director of the New England Arab American Organization.

The new organization is a Westbrook-based nonprofit founded by Sahloul to help Arab immigrants integrate into American culture.

Muslims of various nationalities attended, including Jordanians, Iraqis, Lebanese, Syrians and Afghans.

“All of the Arabs are sharing together,” said Sahloul, a native of Lebanon who moved to Maine in 1997.

The event was originally scheduled for Riverbank Park but with rain in the forecast organizers had to scramble for an indoor venue. The Westbrook Warren Congregational Church quickly stepped up and the party was moved to the Main Street church.

Regina Phillips, left, speaks with Deqa Dhalac at the Eid-al-Fitr celebration Saturday in Westbrook. The event drew several hundred attendees.

Regina Phillips, left, speaks with Deqa Dhalac at the Eid-al-Fitr celebration. Joel Page/Staff Photographer

“We are so happy to have them,” said Dawn Levesque, a church member who helped welcome festival attendees.

Ramadan is a 30-day observance when Muslims fast between sunrise and sunset, which this year started June 6 and ended July 5 with the new moon. The fasting ends with Eid-al-Fitr, a joyous festival of prayers and feasts.

Walid Moumneh, Sahloul’s husband, said it is definitely easier to fast when Ramadan falls during the short winter days, rather than in summer. Eid-al-Fitr is, therefore, even more festive when it occurs in the summer, he said.

“You go out and enjoy the celebration,” Moumneh said.

Muslims traditionally dress up for Eid-al-Fitr, donate to the poor and give presents and candy to the children.

“I like getting money,” said Amir Almamoury, 10, of Portland, whose family is from Iraq.

Amir was later spotted getting his face painted, playing games and chomping on cotton candy with dozens of other children who received Play-Doh and books. The Westbrook Police Department gave out candy and stickers.

“This is an opportunity to make relationships,” said Police Chief Janine Roberts, who ran into a couple at the festival she had once helped when she worked for the Portland Police Department.

Duncan Hardy, left, Amos Libby and Eric LaPerna mark the end of Ramadan with music during a celebration in Westbrook on Saturday.

Duncan Hardy, left, Amos Libby and Eric LaPerna mark the end of Ramadan with music. Joel Page/Staff Photographer

Trays of food were piled on long tables, while a trio led by Amos Libby, director of the Bowdoin College Middle Eastern Ensemble, played music on traditional instruments, such as the oud and the kanoon.

Alhawrra Kareem, 14, of Westbrook, whose family is from Iraq, said she started fasting during Ramadan at age 11. This year one of her non-Muslim friends tried to fast along with her.

“It was great to know he tried to fast, too,” she said.


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