PORTLAND — The hallmark of Ramadan, the month-long Muslim religious observance, is daytime fasting.
But another important part of the holiday, which takes place the ninth month of each year, is giving back to the community.
For the past three years, community leader Pious Ali has taken a group of local Muslim teenagers to the soup kitchen at Preble Street to prepare meals and serve the less fortunate in Portland.
This year, the tradition was expanded to include kids of Jewish and Christian beliefs.
You are supposed to give back during Ramadan,” Ali explained. “Not just to Muslims, but the entire community.”
The kids gathered in the kitchen at Preble Street early Sunday morning were from different backgrounds, but each had attended the Seeds of Peace camp in Otisfield. The camp was created to build leadership among youth from regions in conflict, like the Middle East, in an attempt to advance coexistence and understanding between the different groups.
The Maine Seeds program provides similar leadership training for teenagers who live in Maine, where particularly in Portland and Lewiston, there are many immigrants from conflict regions in Africa. Ali is a facilitator for Maine Seeds and also the Maine Interfaith Youth Alliance, which has a similar mission to Maine Seeds.
The teenagers who volunteered Sunday morning were mostly from Portland, but also from South Portland, York and Kennebunkport.
Astur Tahlao, a sophomore at Portland High School, said she was interested in volunteering at the soup kitchen not just because she wanted to give back during Ramadan, but because she was interested in seeing how the operation worked. It was her first time at Preble Street.
Tahlao was joined by her friend, Nico Catano. A York resident, Catano met Tahlao through Maine Seeds and the two became close friends. Catano said he made the trip to Preble Street to volunteer that morning because it is important to do community service.
“And my best friend was here,” he said, giving Tahlao a squeeze.
Jonathan Sherman, a Waynflete School senior who is Jewish, spent the morning peeling potatoes. Working at the soup kitchen is not new for Sherman, who said he often volunteers there in the spring and summer.
“This is a principle from Seeds of Peace,” he said.
Ali said he plans to add a group of kids from the Root Cellar to his volunteer team next weekend. He hopes the exercise not only results in extending leadership training among the kids, but also exposes them to people who are different from them in a socioeconomic way.
“Some of these kids have never been to a soup kitchen,” Ali said. “And there are people at this soup kitchen who fast because they can’t afford to eat.”