By DAVID M. JOHNSON
UPPER MARLBORO (Sept. 20, 2009)—For the first time, Maryland Muslims will be able to end their month-long Ramadan fast with exclusive access to the spins, turns and dives aboard the Mind Eraser and Tower of Doom thrill rides at Six Flags America in Upper Marlboro.
The private use of Six Flags will coincide with Eid ul-Fitr, one of two yearly Muslim holidays. It's a time when food, prayer and celebration are planned as the Muslim community moves into a new religious calendar year.
"The purpose is to gather Muslims in one place for some good, clean, Islamic fun," said volunteer organizer Salman Sheikh. "It will bring communities together and you usually you don't get that chance, so it's great for the kids."
About 6,000 people attended a similar event at Six Flags America last year, but the park was still open to the public according to Erica Hussey, an event coordinator at Six Flags America. This year, increased ticket sales enabled the Muslim community to book the entire park for themselves.
"We like to treat the kids around Eid with some fun stuff," said Safeer Shamim, who attended Muslim Family Day 2008 with his family. "The kids think this is their treat for being good all year."
Shamim's son, Sharif, has fasted all but three days this Ramadan even though Islamic law says he is not required to until puberty. He is excited about riding the Batwing, a Batman-themed roller coaster, even though he thought it was scary last year.
"I like the scary rides," the 11-year-old said. "It's going to be really fun."
Muslim Family Day 2009 will feature a bazaar with local vendors and a prayer pavilion to create a distinctly Muslim atmosphere for all thrill-seekers. All food will be Halal, a word that means lawful in Arabic, and will be served in place of ordinary park food that is off-limits to Muslims. Swine, alcohol and animals improperly slaughtered are not allowed according to Islamic law.
The day will also be an opportunity for Muslim children to experience their religion in a different atmosphere.
"Sometimes our kids get exposed to others celebrating Christmas but don't get much beyond the mosque for the Muslim holidays, so it will be a special day," Sheikh said.
Maryland's will not be the only Six Flags site in the country hosting a Muslim Family Day.
"They have been doing this in New Jersey for several years but last year they expanded to seven cities," said Mahmood Kijazi, a D.C. representative of the Islamic Circle of North America.
This year, ICNA raised the number of participating theme parks to nine with only some, like the one in Maryland, being exclusive to Muslims. Organizers expect Muslims in less-populated areas to use the event as an opportunity to celebrate the holiday with the broader Islamic community.
"We are expecting about eight or nine-thousand people," said Kijazi of the 2009 event. "Eid is a big Muslim holiday, so big cities usually have something going on but smaller towns do not."
Capital News Service contributed to this report.