Thursday, April 2, 2015

Ramadan Begins

Ramadan beginning a month long daylight fast

Ramadan Begins

Over the years I've seldom ever been refused at a place of worship, even when showing up at the "last minute" asking for permission to take pictures, especially around the times of celebrations. I've always been able to knock at the door of a church, synagogue, temple, meeting house, shrine, chapel, mandir, or mosque and as long as I approach people the right way, find some kind of photographic accommodation.

That doesn't stop me from feeling just a little inconsiderate every time I do it.

Such was the case this week, as another major holiday had arrived without any advance planning for coverage. We could blame it on the Islamic calendar, because although holy days are celebrated on fixed dates in their own lunar-based calendar, the beginning of the monthlong observance of Ramadan shifts 11 days earlier each year compared to the solar-based Gregorian calendar the newspaper uses. 

So there I was, starting my 3p.m. shift trying to find a Ramadan photograph for the front page - just a few hours before sunset when Muslims would be be finishing evening prayers and breaking the first of the monthlong dawn-to-dusk daily fasts.

I had been to the Al-Aqsa Islamic Society's school, grocery store and mosque before - covering everything from food stories to Election Day (they're also a neighborhood polling place) so it was the first place I thought of, and headed straight for Amer and Dalal Dabbour's Al-Amana Grocery Store, left, where I hoped customers would be shopping for the evening's sundown meal.

The store wasn't busy, but I found the couple preparing dinner for the communal meal that would be shared after evening prayer and Amer introduced me to the Iman when he arrived later.  Dalal gave me names and numbers of other mosque leaders so I could get permission to photograph.

It has become increasingly difficult to walk into many places to take photographs - even with a legitimate reason - without making advance arrangements.  Forget about just showing up and trying to make even a light-heated human interest feature photo at playgrounds, shopping malls, office campuses, bus and train stations, public areas outside downtown buildings, bridges, and Walmart parking lots.

But everyone at the mosque could not  have been any more cooperative.

After dinner, Amer took a break inside his grocery. Others had coffee.

Tom Gralish Inquirer Staff Photographer
About this blog

Tom Gralish is a general assignment photographer at The Inquirer, concentrating on local news and self-generated feature photos.

He has been at the paper since 1983, photographing everything from revolution in the Philippines to George W. Bush’s road to the White House to homeless people living on the street right outside his newspaper's front door. For his photo essay on Philadelphia’s homeless, he was awarded both the Pulitzer Prize and the Robert F. Kennedy Award.

His weekly newspaper column, "Scene Through the Lens," takes a look at Philadelphia's urban landscape.

Gralish, along with Inquirer colleague and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Michael Vitez, spent a year visiting the Philadelphia Museum of Art to capture the stories and photos of "Rocky runners" who come from all over the world to climb the steps - just as Sylvester Stallone did in the Academy Award winning film, Rocky. Their book, Rocky Stories: Tales of Love, Hope and Happiness at America’s Most Famous Steps, was published in November 2006.

Reach Tom at

Tom Gralish Inquirer Staff Photographer
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