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Sunday, November 11, 2001 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Islamic neighbors reach out at Ramadan

Seattle Times staff reporter

For 8-year-old Joey Schembrie, the "Ramadan: Tastes and Traditions" gathering yesterday wasn't about big things like war or peace. It was about the really important stuff: cookies and friendship.

He went to the public event, held at the Old Redmond Schoolhouse Community Center, with his mom and grandmother. He happily munched on desserts and learned about the culture of his best friend, 8-year-old Hesham Badissy, a Muslim from Morocco. The two boys have been friends since they were 2, and are now classmates at Chestnut Hill Academy in Bellevue.

"Since I've known Hesham a long time, it's nice knowing more," Joey said.

About 250 people — many of them families with children — attended the event, organized by the Council on American-Islamic Relations' Seattle chapter. The event was designed to help people gain a better understanding of Islam.

Children from the Islamic Center of Eastside sang a welcome song. Adults took turns speaking on the meaning of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month that begins later this week. During Ramadan, Muslims abstain from food, drink and other sensual pleasures from dawn to dusk in order to focus on their relationship with God.

The fasting is an exercise in discipline and self-restraint and teaches patience and empathy for the hungry and less fortunate of the world, speakers said. It's also intended not just as a fast from food but "as a fasting of the ears, mouth, eyes and thought," said speaker Ali-Salaam Mahmoud.

The practice brings them closer to God, by turning their mind toward God and away from worldly concerns and temptations — such as wondering what one will eat, said speaker Sumiya Khan.

After the talks and a question-and-answer session, the audience enjoyed eating the food — pita bread, chicken wraps, dates and beans — and admiring Islamic artworks.

Margaret Kennedy, 85, came with three friends from the Emerald Heights retirement community in Redmond because "we've got to have peace in the world some year."

She remembered a hymn she sang in church last week, about how if there was to be peace in the world, "let it begin with me." So she decided to do her part.

"If we know our neighbors, we're going to love them," she said.

Janet I. Tu can be reached at 206-464-2272 or jtu@seattletimes.com.

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