From the beginning of May to the beginning of June, Muslims observe Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and one of the most important Islamic holidays of the year. And on a Saturday evening in Osterville, Muslims across Cape Cod gathered for a community meal.
Cape Cod's only mosque is a simple, unmarked white clapboard house with just a small mailbox at the driveway entrance. As the sun sets, families begin to gather at the entrance to the house for an Iftar, a communal breaking of the day's fast. During Ramadan, Muslims fast during the day, from dawn until dusk, and on Saturdays the community holds a big group meal, followed by prayer sessions that go into the night.
"It's just a time of self reflection. In the Quran, God says we should refrain from talking bad about others, get rid of bad habits you have," said Ahmed Javid, a resident of Bourne. "It is of course about the fast, but I see it more as wanting to become a better person."
Javid and his family have been coming to this mosque since it was created about ten years ago. This evening, he and his sister Mariam Javid have arrived early to help set up. There are trays and trays of food, ranging from french fries to goat curry.
"It's an Iftar done by a family that comes to this masjid. They've prepared food and invited anyone who would like to come and eat and pray afterwards," Mariam Javid said.
Men and women enter the mosque through separate doors, and stay in separate parts of the house. On the women’s side, Mariam Javid takes a plate of food and goes upstairs to the women's prayer room where there will be an evening call to prayer.
"Now we're just sitting, waiting for Maghrib time, which is the prayer, and it's the time we break our fast," she said.
Women and children sat in rows on long red prayer rugs, everyone oriented toward the direction of Mecca.
"They're going to do the Azan at that time, and that's when we know it's ok to start eating," Javid said.
When the prayer call is sung, she and the women around her all take a bite of a date. The date is the traditional first food to eat after fasting, as it's what the prophet Muhammed is said to have eaten to break his fast.
Once everyone eats, there is a prayer session that can go until midnight. Javid said she’s glad the Muslim community has a place to pray these days. When she was younger, there didn’t used to be a dedicated place for the community to gather and pray.
"There was a family on the Cape, they had a really large basement and they extended it, and we used their basement as a mosque," she said. "There's always been a place, but nothing permanent, nothing official, not something that everyone would know about."
Though the mosque seemed at capacity on Saturday night, informal estimates say there are just a couple hundred Muslims living scattered across the Cape. Saad Afzal, a student at Cape Cod Community College, came to the Cape with his family seven years ago from Pakistan.
"It's quite different, back home everybody knows you're fasting. Most people wouldn't eat in front of you, out of respect," he said of celebrating Ramadan in Pakistan versus on Cape Cod. "But here, I go to work, I see people munching, and I'm like, 'Dude, seriously?'"
Fasting during the holidays aside, he said that recent events, like a recent shooting at a mosque in New Zealand, have made him take pause when practicing his religion in a place where it isn’t common.
"You know, when it happened in New Zealand, that same Friday I heard it on social media, and while I was praying I thought about it, 'What if someone just walked in the door and did the same thing?'" he asked.
But in the end, he said it doesn't deter him.
And Ahmed Javid added that living in a place with fewer Muslims around just means educating more.
"It's just a lot of ignorance, and I'm just doing my best as a Muslim to change their minds and change their hearts, and that's what Islam is all about," Javid said.
Mariam Javid said that having a dedicated mosque on the Cape where her family can observe the highest holiday of the year makes her feel accepted in the community.
"It feels good to know there is a place where we can go that's permanent," she said. "I googled one day just to see if this place would come up on the map, and it did and I was so surprised. It's on the map!"