By ERWIN CHLANDA
Alice, the town of contrasts: Yesterday punters flocked to the Cup Carnival, a crowd frolicked at the Wide Open Space festival while people went hungry and thirsty in Alice Springs.
But it was utterly by their own choice: The town’s Islamic community is 20 days into its one month of Ramadan and many of them do not drink, eat, smoke, nor have sexual relations, between sunrise and sunset.
At 12 minutes past six last night the day’s fast was broken at the mosque in Lyndavale Drive with food, drink and prayer – Iftaar – celebrating the holy month dedicated to family, friends, charity and reaching out to the community.
Some 40 men were watching the clock – or the time on their mobiles – sitting cross-legged on the carpet of the main part of the mosque, substantial snacks – including a samosa and a bottle of water – in front of them.
The signal to eat came from a young man singing “Azan” beginning with Allahu Akbar, which means “God is greater” in Arabic.
It was a similar scene in the building next-door where the congregation’s women and young children were assembled. Reporter KIERAN FINNANE was warmly welcomed to join them.
That was followed by the fourth of the five daily prayers.
These prayers were played into the women’s room on a loudspeaker. And for one of the devotions, some women chose to go into an ante-room at the mosque, separated from the men’s space by a curtain.
Next came an excellent chicken and rice meal cooked in two massive pots (one pictured with men outside), served by men again to men sitting on the floor. Some scooped up the food, with their right hand, of course, using flat bread.
This main meal was followed by a long prayer session – more than an hour – as the day’s fifth prayer.
Most of the men are long-time Alice residents working in jobs ranging from senior Federal public service to small business, teaching and security work. Among the women Finnane spoke to, two were accountants and one, a social worker.
Their countries of origin are mostly Pakistan and include Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Iran, Kenya, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. One woman is from Turkmenistan.
One man at last night’s service was an Australian Aboriginal. Some prominent local Aboriginal families of course have Muslim ancestry dating back to the cameleer days.
Despite its serious purpose the evening was surprisingly relaxed.
The men smiled and laughed a lot, greeted each-other with that touch of the left side of their chest, and went in and out of the prayer room as they pleased. The women were equally joyful, relishing this time of being together. It was consoling for those who were missing their families, elsewhere in Australia or back in their home countries during this worrying pandemic time.
I spent half an hour outside with a young man from Bangladesh, where he was earning $2 a day, now employed as a youth worker, with an interest in local juvenile crime problems, and determined to make a difference.
The noisiness of the dozen or so kids was tolerated without hesitation around the spacious grounds, and even inside, although for the final prayer of the day the door to the mosque remained closed.
As we left a man called through his car window: “Don’t make it just the one. Come again.”
BELOW: Imam Hamdulla (at right in the photo below).