SANTA CLARA -- On the eve of their 20th Ramadan together, a few dozen men, women and teenagers on Sunday calmly prepared one of Northern California's largest mosques for a month of daily fasting, late-night prayers and spiritual renewal. A fresh coat of peach-colored paint gave the Muslim Community Association of the Bay Area a soothing scent and feel for Monday's start to Islam's holy month.

"Whatever is happening around the world, in foreign countries or here, Ramadan is a constant," said Fouad Khatib, president of the large complex that is both a house of worship and community center. "For Muslims, this is the annual chance to renew yourself spiritually, to prove your humanity and bearing with respect to God."

Observed by Muslims around the world, Ramadan comes 11 days earlier each year because the Islamic calendar follows the lunar cycle. Sighting of the hilal, or crescent moon, ushers in a month of fasting and abstinence -- no food or drink, no smoking or sex during fasting hours, from sunrise to sunset.

Some Muslims pray at home with family and friends but many others prefer joining group prayers at mosques. At sunset at the Muslim Community Association, they will break their fasts as the Prophet Muhammad did, with sweet dates and milk. They will pray from about 10 p.m. to midnight and end the night with a meal in the banquet hall.

This will be the Santa Clara mosque's 20th Ramadan in its present center, which recently added a 30,000-square-foot building next door. Khatib said about 1,500 members will come to the mosque each night during Ramadan. With a growing number of white, black and Hispanic American converts to Islam, and members with roots in 35 nations, the prayer services have become as culturally diverse as any in Silicon Valley.

"The valley's diversity, that's reflected in our mosque," Khatib said proudly.

As big as the Muslim Community Association has grown, it's learned that moving that many men, women and children between prayer halls and eating areas every night for a month isn't easy.

Michelle Lee spent a good part of Sunday afternoon meeting with about 30 volunteers on a number of duties, from baby-sitting children during prayers to directing pedestrian traffic in the jammed hallways to showing newcomers where the bathrooms are. Lee emphasized two points: courteous welcomes and proper recycling.

"Please greet them with smiles," she told them. "We're one of the largest Islamic centers in the Bay Area and we're trying to set the trend. We're going green, not using any Styrofoam cups this year."

Contact Joe Rodriguez at 408-920-5767. Follow him at Twitter.com/JoeRodMercury.

learn about islam
The Muslim Community Association of the Bay Area invites the public to its annual open house on July 20, to learn more about Islam, Ramadan and the activities and services available at the complex -- both the community center and mosque.
For more information, go to
www.mcabayarea.org.