Seated around a folding table in a mini-mall just south of downtown Manchester, a group of Muslim men have just been Googling the time for sundown. It was 8:14 PM to be exact tonight. Everyone here is waiting to break their fast, which they’ve held since dawn.
Observers begin their Iftar meal, first eating a few dates as is tradition. Then it’s time to jump in the buffet line to really fill up a plate.
“The essence of the month is, try to do as good as you can,” says Mosfeq Talukder as he gets in line for a meal.
Talukder was born in Bangladesh and has lived in the U.S. for 30 years. Now he calls Manchester home with his wife and three daughters.
“It’s a very diverse place, we all get to share each other’s experience,” Talukder says. “We share everyone’s food. Everyone all becomes one in this community.”
That diversity is represented in the food served for this Iftar meal: chicken kebab made spicy in the Pakistani fashion, Moroccan couscous, baklava for desert.
A founding-member of the Islamic Society of New Hampshire says he estimates there are about seven thousand muslims in the Granite State.
“A lot of people don’t know it, but they’re curious and I think a lot of times we kind of fail to reach out to other communities and sort of build the overall community,” Talukder says. “Just because it’s hard. A lot of us don’t speak English very well. Some of us have accent that kind of deters us from getting involved in other communities.”
As this community has grown over the years, they’ve also started to outgrow this interim mosque in a space that originally housed retail stores. The Society has struggled to find a permanent home. Raising enough money has been an issue, so has resistance from from neighbors. This year’s holiday of Eid al Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, will be observed with prayer at a rented Gill stadium.
But Society trustee Saeed Ahmed says that might change for next year.
“So hopefully we’ll move in this year and it will become easier,” Ahmed says. “Because once people see it’s a reality, they might be more generous.”
Many people at the temporary mosque were excited by the progress made so far.
Near the entrance, Society Board President Mohamed Ewiess points to construction photos of their new place of worship on Bald Hill in Manchester. There’s a timeline, from foundation to steel skelton to brick exterior. Ewiess explains one part of the motivation behind this project, beginning in Arabic.
“If you build a mosque, or you help to build a mosque for people to get together and share peace and be able to practice their religion and worship god, Allah will build a similar mosque to you in heaven,” Ewiess says.
If everything goes right, Ewiess says they’re hoping to move into just the first floor of three at the new mosque by September. He says he’s looking forward to the serenity of the new space.
“It’s peaceful here, but the problem is, you still have some people shouts at you, you still have some people tells you stuff,” says Ewiess. “A woman goes outside and people try to harass them... So as a president, you still have that little tiny question mark: ‘What if something happens?’”
Ewiess imagines the day he can show people their new place of worship, decades in the making.
“Oh my god... When you go up, you have a balcony all over the building, like around,” Ewiess says. “So if you go out, you have beautiful, beautiful air, garden... green flowers.
Full completion of the mosque for all three floors is still millions of dollars out of reach, the Society says. So for now, the sound of evening prayers will continue to spill out into the parking lot of this mini-mall in Manchester.