Ramadan is a time for prayer, purification and introspection, and, for some 600 Muslims on Saturday, it was a chance to gather for Iftaar, a traditional breaking of their fast with friends before an evening of prayer.
During Ramadan, Muslims fast during daylight hours, without so much as a glass of water. For some at the Iftaar, that meant knowing sundown to the second, with one obviously hungry young man counting down with 30 seconds to go.
Traditionally, the fast is broken with a date, and a small portion of food is eaten before evening prayers. A call to prayer praises God, offers a testimony of faith -- "There is no God but God" -- affirms that Mohammed is God's prophet and calls people to prayers.
The local Muslim community is as diverse at it is similar. United by faith, they come from India or Pakistan, Bangladesh, Afghanistan or Lebanon, and the food served at the Iftaar meal showed the variety as much as the unity.
Muslims in the area have a reputation for courtesy, as witnessed by the room full of members of the San Ramon Valley Islamic Center who turned out recently to ask for an expansion of the center, and for special permission to hold larger-than-allowed gatherings on Fridays during Ramadan. They'd already consulted with neighbors and San Ramon planners and anticipated questions about parking and traffic. During Ramadan, however, that's more evident that ever.
"If you do a good deed, the reward for it is 70 times," said Syed Saifullah, explaining that Muslims add extra prayers and charity deeds during Ramadan, joking, "They do a lot of things to rack up the bonus points."
"It's not the easiest thing in the world, but there are people in the world that have no food," he added.
Ramadan was given to Mohammed in a vision, Saifullah said, adding that fasting is a spiritual component of nearly all faiths: Lent for Christians, Yom Kippur for Jews, with fasting a regular practice for Buddhists and Taoists alike.
Whoever fasts during Ramadan with faith and seeking his reward from Allah will have his past sins forgiven, Mohammed is reported to have said.
While most non-Muslims may be familiar with Ramadan fasting, there's a deeper component to the month. It's a time for spiritual purification as well as purifying the body.
The hours between sunset and dawn are especially important during Ramadan. Not only do people refrain from fasting, but special nightly prayers are held in which the entire Quran is recited over the course of the month.
During Ramadan, Muslims are urged to see only things that please God -- Allah -- to speak no evil, hear no evil, do no evil and look to Allah with fear and hope.
That was probably more difficult when Saifullah and his family moved to the San Ramon Valley from Texas. His was one of the first Muslim families here and is no stranger to prejudice.
"I remember our house getting TPed, I remember getting beat up," he said. "Twenty years ago you could definitely feel it."
Being among the first few families led to special responsibilities for Saifullah's family, and the roots of the SVRIC can be traced directly to Saifullah's mother.
"She was running an Islamic school, sort of a Sunday school out of her house," said Noman Munif, who attended those classes. "They just ran out of space."
Five families were originally involved. By 1992, that had grown to 30 families, Munif said. Now, services at the SRVIC, at 2232 Camino Ramon, can bring in 400 people and the Muslim community hopes to draw even more with its expansion.