On Thursday at sunset, Tarek Nosseir and a group of fellow Muslims looked to the rosy sky as it washed blue, then black and waited for the sign.
Upon the first sighting of the crescent of the new moon, one of the holiest times in the religion of Islam will begin this weekend.
For Muslims, including ones in Utah, the holy month of Ramadan is a time of fasting and reflection. It is also a time when Muslims believe they must work on becoming closer to Allah while pondering the suffering in the world.
At a time when there is daily violence and bloodshed in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, western Sudan and Israel, Utah Muslims said more than ever there is a need for prayer and encouragement for peace.
Since the tragedy of 9/11, Nosseir said many Muslims have struggled to restore the image of their religion in the eyes of others. News of suicide bombings and beheadings by extremists have soured some toward Islam.
"We feel like these elements in the world have hijacked our religion, and we feel that this is not true Islam," Nosseir said. "We love being here and we love being part of the community."
The tradition of fasting is an ancient ritual, prescribed upon the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths. In Islam, faithful fast from sunrise to sundown, forgoing food and water until they break their fast, called "iftar," when families gather, often inviting friends, for a
celebratory meal. Some forego things such as sex during the month. It is believed the pangs of hunger and thirst will remind Muslims of the suffering of those less fortunate.
The observance of Ramadan is one of the five "pillars" of Islam, which also include a declaration of faith, prayer five times daily, giving to the poor "zakat" and the "Hajj," or pilgrimage to Mecca.
Asha Patel of the Muslim Forum of Utah said since 9/11 Muslims have sensed the growing tension in the world, particularly during Ramadan. "Each Ramadan has been that much more intense for us," Patel said.
In an effort to spread more understanding about Islam, mosques across the United States are being encouraged to open their doors to the public.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington, D.C., launched the "Sharing Ramadan Initiative," in which mosques are encouraged to invite non-Muslim members in their communities to an "iftar" dinner. Typically mosques offer fast-break dinners at mosques, mainly for social reasons and for the poor.
Nosseir said the Utah Muslim community will plan to invite the public to an "iftar" dinner during this Ramadan season in the hope of sharing and spreading understanding.
"I pray that peace, prosperity and that good will will come to the whole world," Nosseir said.