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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Hundreds of Florida Muslims gather in Gainesville to celebrate Eid al-Fitr

‘Festival of Breaking the Fast’ at Skate Station Funworks included prayers, sermons, food

Hundreds of Muslim community members gather for Eid al-Fitr morning prayers
Hundreds of Muslim community members gather for Eid al-Fitr morning prayers

Dressed in colorful abayas and thawbs, mothers and fathers held onto their children with one hand and carried ornamented prayer rugs in the other. Friends exchanged greetings of “Eid Mubarak” (Blessed Festival) as they removed their shoes and entered a skating rink.

More than 500 Muslim community members from across Florida gathered to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the three-day Muslim holiday marking the end of the month long dusk-to-sunset fasting of Ramadan. 

Wednesday morning, the observance at Skate Station Funworks — 1311 NW 76th Blvd — comfortably housed the growing Muslim population for their special morning prayers, followed by sermons and a feast.

The event was organized by the Islamic Community Center of Gainesville board. Every year, the ICCG and the Hoda Center collaborate to host Eid celebrations for the entire Muslim community.

Mutaz Alsanjalawi, an ICCG board member, hoped the event would instill unity and love in the community, especially during the Israeli-Palestine conflict, he said.

“Although we're celebrating, all of us have pain in our hearts [for the people in Gaza],” Alsanjalawi said. “We hope that peace prevails.”

Guests were encouraged to bring cuisine from their home countries for the breakfast potluck.

“People are from all over the world like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Jordan, Palestine, Syria, Iraq and Africa,” Alsanjalawi said. “Some of them [brought] some authentic dishes they eat in their country.”

Abdelsalam Helal, a 64-year-old UF computer science professor, saw his colleagues and students in the crowd. He said he was impressed by the amount of Muslims who gathered together compared to the Eids he celebrated during his time in England.

“For Muslims, this is a must-go-to event,” Helal said. “I came here for this Eid prayer and I see almost double the number of Muslims.” 

He said completing the challenge of abstinence during Ramadan displays the community’s resilience.

“This holiday marks an important trade of Islam which is that you always have good days after bad days,” Helal said. “As the speech mentioned, we are really hopeful here as a community for the silver lining in Gaza.”

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Lamees Farahat, a 17-year-old high school student, traveled from Jacksonville to celebrate with her brother and sister. Previously a resident of Gainesville for eight years, she wanted to share the holiday with the community she grew up in. 

“All of our Muslim brothers and sisters… celebrate together with family and friends,” Farahat said. “Just seeing how we all come together is so beautiful.”

Sezoud Dahmash, a 27-year-old Orlando resident, was invited to the Skate Station festivities by her uncle who lives in Gainesville. She saw it as an opportunity to spend time with family who she does not often see. 

“We feel blessed all together and we only see each other on holidays,” Dahmash said.

The event advertised for families saw children of all ages. After prayers, children greeted each other with trays of candy and raced to enjoy the Skate Station’s arcade, racetrack and skating rink.

Sultan Jadallah, a 39-year-old father of three, held his daughter’s hand as she unwrapped candy she took from a basket. The Jadallah family plans to continue the child-friendly celebrations tonight at a carnival.

“I love the community here and I'm happy today because my children will have a good time,” Jadallah said.

Baano Golawala, an 18-year-old finance freshman, enjoyed celebrating her first Eid al-Fitr away from home with a community she said she’s grown close to over the past year.

“My experience [in the Muslim community] has been nothing short of amazing,” Golawala said. “Especially during Ramadan when it is tough to be away from family, it’s been so supportive.”

Contact Molly Seghi at Follow her on X @molly_seghi.

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Molly Seghi

Molly Seghi is a first-year journalism major at UF and a Fall 2023 Avenue Reporter. When not writing or journaling, she can be found at a live music event or working on her podcast “An Aural Account.”

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