On a mild evening last week, Raqiba Moya stood in the grass outside the back porch of the Islamic Learning Center of Wilmington dropping battered chicken wings into an open fryer.
Her hair was covered in a short black hijab, and she talked and laughed with one of her fellow sisters from Wilmington's newest mosque on Wrightsville Avenue.
As each batch of chicken was fried crispy brown, other women carried the food upstairs into the white farmhouse-turned-mosque. The women's prayer rooms are upstairs, and the men's prayer room is on the first floor.
Just after sundown, women and children broke their day of fasting with dates and rocket fuel sweet tea for a boost of blood sugar upstairs while the men did the same on the floor below. Then there were prayers to Allah for making it through another day of fasting in the grueling midsummer heat of Southeastern North Carolina. And the time of feast and fellowship - fried chicken, salad, barbecued beef, green beans and watermelon for dessert.
This time of cooking, praying and breaking the fast has become a nightly ritual for the community at the Islamic Learning Center during Ramadan - 30 days of Muslim fasting, prayer, reading and almsgiving.
Other mosques in Wilmington typically break fast and have the evening meal - called iftar - together once or twice each week. But the Islamic Learning Center makes the communal evening meal a priority each night during Ramadan.
Moya believes the nightly meals brings her community closer together.
"It's nice to get together every day when we don't normally get to do it," she said. "We're all there because we're all Muslim. We all love each other for the sake of Allah."
Mosque members sponsor nightly meals, an act the Hadith or narrations about the words and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad, teaches brings extra blessings on the believer, Moya said.
For prayers, the women stood shoulder-to-shoulder on diagonal masking tape lines facing Mecca as the mosque's spiritual leader, Khalil Moya, called out the night's supplication. Afterward, the women and their children joked with each other about the super sweetness of the tea that night and filled plates for each other, sitting on the floor to eat and talk over their day. One woman shares fresh cherries she brought. When some of their sons appeared at the door, checking in with their mothers, the ladies shooed them away. Boys weren't supposed to mix in the women's area after age 10.
One woman named Rema said her 7-year-old, 9-year-old and 13-year-old have done well with the fasting this month, despite the heat.
"They want to do it because they see their parents doing it. We keep them busy throughout the day studying Arabic at home and swimming, and we take naps," she said. "So no one is cooking so no one even goes into the kitchen during the day."
To have enough food to feed about 40 people each night, Moya drives three hours each way to Siler City twice during Ramadan to buy specially blessed halal meat from a slaughterhouse there at wholesale prices.
But the drives are worth it for the community, she said.
"It was just something we needed to do for the center community," she said. "We all fasted together and break the fast together. It's a beautiful thing."
Amanda Greene: 910-520-3958 or