GREENWICH VILLAGE — More than a hundred people poured into the Village Monday night — not to get tattoos or hit the bars, but to celebrate their Muslim faith in the basement of a Catholic church.
A devoted, largely under-40 crowd assembled for the evening maghrib prayer and daily fast-breaking meal at the Islamic Center at New York University.
The center is hosting iftar dinners throughout Ramadan, the Islamic month of reflection and daily fasting until sundown.
As young men and women removed their shoes and took seats on the floor in separate sections of the basement at the Church of St. Joseph on Sixth Avenue, Islamic Center executive director Imam Khalid Latif explained why so many people had come.
"New York can be a very lonely city," he said. "It can be hard to find other Muslims and not get trapped in a party lifestyle. We provide young Muslims with community."
The center, which worshippers say is the only Islamic worship site in the Village, draws people from around New York and beyond.
"It's awesome because it's the largest [Muslim] community you have around here," said digital strategist Oz Sultan, 36. "It's professionals, students, NYU alums and people who live in the area — all trying to get closer to God."
Hoboken resident and teacher Nadia Mian, 31, said the camaraderie at NYU's Islamic center has kept her coming for six years.
"There's a very strong sense of community here," she said. "It's very welcoming, and the crowd here is a lot younger than in a lot of other places."
As the group drank their first cups of water of the day and ate dates, Muslim convert Barbara Fazo explained that she prefers celebrating the holy month with like-minded people.
"I embraced Islam seven years ago, and I come here because I don't want to be alone," said Fazo, who is in her 50s and commutes to the Islamic Center from her home in Staten Island as often as possible.
"It's good to be with other Muslims," she added.
After prayers and a short sermon by Imam Khalid on forgiveness, the crowd lined up for submarine sandwiches, pasta salad and fruit from Gigi's Pizza, a halal restaurant on Long Island.
So far this Ramadan, the group has had Chinese, Mediterranean and Turkish meals, and "a lot of soul food," said Imam Khalid, who noted that each donation-funded night costs more than $1,000, including the cost of dinner and rental of the church basement.
Soon enough, though, the group will have a home of its own.
Next year, the Islamic Center will be housed in NYU's Center for Academic and Spiritual Life, which is currently being built at 58 Washington Square South. It is expected to be completed in summer 2012.
For now, the Islamic Center prays at St. Joseph's five times a day during Ramadan, and is open the rest of the year on Mondays from 12:30 to 9 p.m. and Fridays from noon to 6 p.m.