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Friday, Jun 22, 2018
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Muslim festival opens doors to Temple Terrace mosque

TAMPA — Perched above a dunk tank, Farres Hawasli taunted passersby at a carnival at the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay Area on East Sligh Avenue.
The 13-year-old egged on other young peers, coaxing them to try to hit the target with a ball to drop him into the tank of water. Nearby, small children laughed as they flailed up and down in vinyl bouncy houses.
Area Muslims are celebrating the end of the monthlong observance of Ramadan, the holiest time of the year on the Islamic calendar. It is a time of religious introspection for Muslims, including no eating or drinking daily from sunrise to sunset.
Muslims also refrain from sexual relations from dawn to sunset; devote more time to prayer and reading their holy book, the Quran; and emphasize charitable acts.
For the past 30 years, the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay Area mosque at 7326 E. Sligh Ave. has celebrated the occasion, including Eid al-Fitr, a holiday recognizing the end of Ramadan, with a festival.
“Everyday here is an open house,” said Mahmoud ElKasaby, director of the Islamic Society of Tampa Bay Area, or ISTABA.
The three-day carnival, which ends today, is intended as a communitywide event to attract people of all ages, religions and backgrounds.
“We do our best to clear up misunderstandings and correctly present our faith to those who don't know about it,” EIKasaby said.
Each year the festival draws more non-Muslims, he said.
“We always get a lot of friends and neighbors to come by,” ElKasaby said.
The mosque has earned a reputation in the community for helping people in need, he said. A medical clinic, food pantry, day care center, a nature trail park and a Islamic library with more than 10,000 materials are open to the public.
Jim Harkness, the owner of Jungle Jims Party Rentals, who is providing the bouncy houses, attended for the first time.
“It's a wonderful event; the kids are great,” Harkness said.
Mahamed Sultan, 61, who lives in East Tampa's Nuccio Park neighborhood, said the carnival attracts all sorts of people, similar to a sporting event.
“We have people of all faiths here; it's something we can share,” said Sultan, a native Ethopian Muslim whose wife is Baptist.
Amera Elhaddad, a mother of five who is a first generation Muslim, believes knowledge is power and events such as the carnival are sorely needed.
“The media portrays Muslims 99 percent of the time in a negative light,” said Elhaddad, an MBA and an accountant who wears jeans and outfits of her choice in public.
She is disheartened when she sees television news reports or reads newspaper articles casting all Muslims in a disparaging way.
“There are 3 1/2 billion Muslims in the world, and you're going to judge everyone based on the actions of a few? Elhaddad said.
“We are very normal people,” she said. “We are no different than anyone else. We believe in the same God.”
The event ends at 11:30 p.m. today.
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