Hundreds of people, clad in colorful dresses and their finest clothes, filled the gymnasium at St. Louis Community College's Forest Park campus. After taking off their shoes, multi-generational families placed rugs on the floor, pointed in the same direction.
Waving, hugging and greeting one another, people waited for the beginning of the prayer service to mark the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
"(Ramadan) teaches us patience, submission to God," said Ghazala Hayat, chair of the public relations committee for the Islamic Foundation of Greater St. Louis. "I always call it a refresher course. We do a lot of charity work, abstain from food and water ... It’s also discipline for Muslims."
The Islamic Foundation's prayer service in the gym (which Hayat estimates was attended by a few thousand people) was one of many held at mosques and community centers across the St. Louis area to celebrate the holiday Eid al-Fitr, or the breaking of the weeks-long dawn-to-sunset fast.
In Tower Grove Park, the Grand Islamic Center held prayers for what Imam Abdul Hakim expected would be at least 300 people. He said the purpose of the prayers are to "magnify Allah ... for having guided you so that you be grateful to him."
Along South Grand Boulevard, a group of young Muslims with the Islamic Information Center of Hazelwood marked the holiday by passing out gift bags of candy and information about Islam to strangers.
"When it is Eid ... all Muslims are giving gifts to each other — to family members. It is a family thing. So we living in this community, we think everyone is part of the family, so let’s share the Eid with them on the streets," said Taoheed Atal as he passed out bags. "We are trying .. .to share our happiness with them."
Indeed, the Eid celebration is "a day of joy," according to Sheikh Mohammed Nur, former longtime imam at Daar-ul-Islam (the Islamic Foundation).
"Today you are celebrate that almighty God accept our faith, our fasting and our good deeds, so this day of joy, celebration, happiness and meeting everyone here in this hall," he said.
After prayer at the gymnasium, people celebrated completing the fast with each other, greeted old friends, and planned to feast. And then, "the party starts," Hayat said.
"We are going to one of our friend's house, we are going to have food. We will also have a dinner tonight, where all the families are getting together. We will go from place to place, party-hopping," she said.
St. Louis Public Radio spoke with several other people about their thoughts on their faith journey this Ramadan and their plans to celebrate Eid:
"Ramadan is a boot camp for you to go back and reestablish your religion and be better, so every time you’re trying to be better at being a good Muslim, being a nicer person generally. So every Ramadan it’s kind of the same challenge, how do I beat my previous experience? How do I get the most out of this? Hopefully I have done my best, and may God accept our worship." — Ahmad Rabiu, a Webster University student from Nigeria
"This is my first Ramadan away from my family. My family is in Malaysia, so actually I kind of miss my family, so it’s kind of hard without them, being without them. As you can see, we gather here with our friends, and after this we will celebrate with our friends, having some feast. I have my own little family, so I think that’s ok, as long as we are together everything will be fine." — Suhaine Mokhter of O'Fallon, Mo., with her toddler Sophie
"When I first got here, my first year in America, it was combining my time with observing my prayer schedules and all, it was pretty challenging. This year, my second year in America, I was able to adjust and adapt to the time differences. We have so many prayer schedules and fasting with the hot sun and all of that, this year was pretty decent. I was able to combine that with my studies and I’m so proud of myself that I was able to do it." — Mohammed Kahlid, a student from Ghana who graduated with his masters from Webster University this past May, on time management
"It’s just the most beautiful time of the year. You get to see every single person you know in the community and you just feel so blessed. It makes me a better believer in our religion because this is God’s command: it's decreed upon you by God to celebrate, feel happy, greet your friends and family, greet everyone you know. It's just a beautiful occasion. I just hope we Muslims live up to the spirit of Islam, what it is actually about." — Dr. Anjum Hassan, assistant professor at Washington University School of Medicine
"This last month was a little hectic, long hours of no eating, but definitely worthwhile. In the end, it actually gives more than it takes. We gained a lot of patience, helping each other, and togetherness." — Bushra Ali, of St. Louis, who attended prayer services with her husband, two children and father
"For me personally, it (showed) the unity of the community. I got to go to at least 30 Islamic centers during this Ramadan in St. Louis and all across the region and just seeing the diversity but seeing they are all together united, is the best part about it." —Faizan Syed, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in St. Louis
"There are a couple things spiritually that went amazing. My eldest one, he's 12-years-old, for the first time, he had all 29 fasts. We didn't ask him and that was amazing." — Jay Raja of Wildwood, about son Ali
"We didn’t force him to keep it. It was his own choice and we thought it was a great achievement. It was a long fast and we are very proud of him." — Hina Raja, Jay's wife and Ali's mother
"Presents and candy." — 10-year-old Tanya Raja, on what she is looking forward to during Eid
"For me, apart from following the commands, in this world today, there are so many people who have no food. So it’s a reflection to understand the hunger, what people have gone through, and we need to figure out a way how to feed them ... The reason why we fast is to realize what it is when you don’t have food to eat ... It gives you a month where you reflect and say, 'Do I really need to eat all this, what I’ve been eating for 11 months?'" — Mohammad Tahir, St. Louis cardiologist and a board member of the Islamic Foundation
"It’s really a month of sacrifice. You’re being more God-conscious. It’s really nice to see how nice everyone is during the month. It’s as if it’s Christmas for an entire month; people are really nice to one another. Just trying to be a better husband and a better son, patience is key. We could use even more patience, that’s what I try to take away from it." —Nauman Wadalawala, member of the Islamic Foundation
"I think the older I get, I think life means much more than what I have. It’s less materialistic, to do things for other people, to be kind to other people — that’s what I get out of it." — Dr. Ghazala Hayat, a neurologist and professor at Saint Louis University School of Medicine
Correction: This article originally incorrectly stated that Ameer Raja completed all 29 fasts. It was 12-year-old Ali Raja who completed the fasts.