Edmonds Waterfront Center hosts Ramadan celebration

L-R: House of Wisdom Founder and President Ahmad Hilal Abid with Edmonds Waterfront Center Events Manager Ilham Lioui, CEO Daniel Johnson and Programs Director Michelle Neu.

The Edmonds Waterfront Center opened its doors Tuesday night to a Ramadan celebration sponsored by the Lynnwood-based House of Wisdom.

The nonprofit assists mostly first-generation, immigrant and refugee students at Edmonds College and extends its support to high school students. Besides tutoring students at school work, House of Wisdom staff and volunteers help students integrate into American society and provide resources for post-high school education and employment. 

House of Wisdom Founder and President Ahmad Hilal Abid greets a guest at the Edmonds Waterfront Center for the Ramadan celebration.

House of Wisdom Founder and President Ahmad Halil Abid and Vice President of Outreach Engagement Jake Slade provided background about the House of Wisdom along with a basic understanding of Ramadan. Following the presentation, an Afghan dinner was served, made by volunteers including Abid’s mother.

With the help of relatives already living in the city, Abid immigrated at age 17 to Lynnwood from Kabul, Afghanistan in 2018. He understood and spoke almost no English, but he was already fluent in Farsi, Pashto and Hindi. In less than two years, he became fluent in English while attending Edmonds College, earning an associate of arts degree and a paralegal degree.

“We immigrated from Afghanistan to here because my family was facing persecution, discrimination and war,” Abid said. He recalled spending many days hanging out at the beaches in Edmonds by himself because he could not communicate with other people in the area. 

Ahmad Hilal Abid listens to an attendee at the Ramadan celebration at the Edmonds Waterfront Center.

Abid originally served 20 immigrant and refugee students from his parents’ garage in Lynnwood in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Through word of mouth from the students’ families, more people in Lynnwood and nearby communities began to know about the House of Wisdom. 

Since then, he and the organization have helped more than 100 students in South Snohomish County, assisted by more than 30 Edmonds College student volunteers. Currently, there are 15 students on the waiting list.

“Basically, what we’re trying to do is to remove the cost barrier for people to gain the access to educational tools,” Slade said. “It’s a common reality in our society that to gain resources and the support they need, you have to spend money on those things. Many people don’t have the means to do that. Our goal is to provide these opportunities to all learners, not just those who can afford it – everybody.”

Jake Slade speaks to the audience.

By focusing on the county’s immigrant and refugee populations, Slade said that House of Wisdom offers a safe space for them. He pointed out that not being fluent in a language that is common to a country can be a lonely experience. Having traveled in countries where the locals do not speak English, Slade said he knew what it was like.

Slade also recalled his 6-year-old son saying hello in Spanish to a classmate who is from Guatemala and did not speak any English. “His face lit up and all he wanted was to be able to play with the other kids,” Slade said. “That is a great example of how a lot of people in this area feel. Everybody wants to be valued and add value [to others]. We want to give people the opportunity to do that. That’s what the House of Wisdom is about.”

The services at House of Wisdom are not only for children and young adults but also for experienced professionals. Slade knew a mechanical engineer from Egypt attending Edmonds College who had 20 years of experience in his field, but he did not know most of the trade vocabulary in English. “We want to provide these tools to anyone who needs them, regardless of their background,” he said. “Flashcards or just learning the vocabulary, anything to add value to you as an expert in your field.”

Attendees listen to the presentation at the Ramadan celebration.

Abid explained that Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting, prayer, reflection and community.

It is considered the holiest month in Islam because it commemorates the time when the Quran, the holy book of Islam, was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. Abid said he hoped that the Ramadan presentation would dispel many of the misconceptions about the holiday.

Like Christians who have come to the U.S. from England, Mexico and South Korea, Abid pointed out that Muslims are also diverse, hailing from different countries, such as Saudi Arabia, India and Malaysia. “There are Muslims from many different cultures and ethnicities. It’s a religion that does not exclude anybody,” he said.

Chicken biryani (foreground) and samosas are served at dinner.
An attendee helps herself to chicken biryani at the Ramadan celebration at Edmonds Waterfront Center.

Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset during Ramadan as an act of worship and obedience to God, seeking spiritual purification, self-discipline and empathy for the less fortunate. Fasting includes no drinking, not even water.

However, there are exceptions, Abid said. They include children who have not reached puberty, Muslims who are traveling abroad, pregnant and nursing women and people who are sick or have health conditions that can endanger their lives if they fast.

“Ahmad has given such a wonderful opportunity for me as a student to learn how to teach students in a more wholesome way and to be more interactive with my community,” said Everett Community College student Alena Benoit, who has just started working at the House of Wisdom. “I’d like to go to college at UW and get my master’s in education to teach ESL students. He’s such a wonderful guy. He needs to write a book.”

House of Wisdom Founder and President Ahmad Hilal Abid (left) and his father Burhan Abid.

After the presentation, Abid, his father Burhan and several volunteers brought out the dinner in catering trays, featuring chicken biryani (a rice dish), crispy samosas, red grapes and tangerines, a vegetarian soup and firni – a custard-like dessert made from ground rice, milk, sugar and cardamom.

“I’m very proud as every father and every parent would see their kid doing something big and giving back to the community,” Burhan said. “Ahmad had experienced and seen a lot of hardships back in Afghanistan: discrimination, war, killings, suicides and a lot of poverty. He came to Seattle as a teen and wanted to apply his passion to supporting kid refugees and immigrants.”

“If you study the history of [the U.S.], this country was built by the people who migrated here,” Abid said. “People who did not have opportunities in Europe. We should also acknowledge people who were forced to migrate, like people from Africa and Ukraine and people like myself. That’s why I have devoted my life to community service.”

— Story and photos by Nick Ng

  1. Thank you for telling the story of a person who is devoting his life to helping people. It’s inspirational.

  2. I once heard that during WW2 that what mattered was defeating the 20% of the Germans that were Nazis. The other 80% of the Germans did not matter, we did not care about bombing German cities. Today we want to defeat the 20% of radical Muslims. The other 80% of Muslims do not matter. It is time the 80% find the courage to end the radicals in their country.

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