Hard fast: This summer, Ramadan means long, hot days of fasting for local Muslims
by Cameron Steele
Aug 18, 2012 | 3252 views |  0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Saad Ibrahim observes evening prayers during Ramadan. Photo: Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star
Saad Ibrahim observes evening prayers during Ramadan. Photo: Bill Wilson/The Anniston Star
During Ramadan, Zaahra Ahmed doesn’t play outside as much as she normally does. She doesn’t exercise a lot when she’s fasting through these hot Alabama days, and she spends more time resting and praying. She watches TV, reads more to keep her mind active and on things other than her fasting. (Somewhat ironically, the 13-year-old’s book of choice this summer is “The Hunger Games.”)

“It’s an exciting month, and it’s fun,” Ahmed said. “You just try not to think about being hungry.”

The month of Ramadan is an annual holiday for Muslims, when they abstain from eating food, drinking water and having sexual intercourse between the hours of sunrise and sunset. Ramadan falls at a different time each year, because it follows the lunar calendar.

This year, Ramadan — which means “scorching heat” or “dryness” in Arabic — has lived up to its name, falling in the midst of one of the hottest summers on record. Ramadan began on July 20, and ends tomorrow with the holiday of Eid al-Fitr.

“The days are longer, this time,” said Safaa Al-Hamdani, a member of the Anniston Islamic Center, as he and Muhammad Haq, the center’s imam, prepared to break their fast Tuesday evening. “But if you eat well before you start fasting and you get good sleep, you can make it.”

Advice of this sort, given nonchalantly, matter-of-factly, is the common response if you ask local Muslims how they balance the requirements of Ramadan and the very literal scorching heat of summer.

What might seem impossible to non-Muslims — withholding from eating or drinking while the sun is up and temperatures climb — is necessary if not exactly easy for those of the Islamic faith.

“We have been used to this for a long time,” Haq said. “It becomes routine: Ramadan is a time of the year everyone is excited; kids do it because they want to do it, even though they are not required to.”

The fasting becomes obligatory for Muslims once they reach puberty, but children often are allowed to fast only on weekends, or alternating days, Haq said.

There are ways to fast throughout these summer days without putting health in peril, Al-Hamdani said.

People who work outside know to have those large meals at dawn. They are careful not to abuse their bodies, Haq said. Fasting children take notes to school or camp classes, alerting teachers to the Ramadan strictures and asking for permission to sit out during times of extended physical activity.

Some Muslims, like 25-year-old Meriem Zettili, rest more during Ramadan, and take more time to be quiet and prayerful.

Although it’s hot, Zettili said it’s easier this year because Ramadan has fallen during her break from classes at Jacksonville State University, where she studies chemistry. This year, she doesn’t have to worry about making it through lectures or doing homework.

“You do feel hungry,” Zettili said. “This month, I pray more. And we get to eat as a family almost every day, which is a blessing.”

Through fasting and prayer, Ramadan is a time of great blessings for Muslim people, Haq said. A time of civility and forgiveness — community and faith.

“We are breaking fast to bring the community together, to celebrate, to come closer and share the food,” Al-Hamdani said. It’s an honor to break the fast with each other in the evenings, Haq said, and “it is a privilege” to fast throughout the days.

As members of the Anniston Islamic Center began to break their fasts with bottled waters and dried dates, Haq smiled and noted Ramadan’s lengthy history, which Muslims trace back to the time of the prophet Muhammad.

“We have been fasting in the harder situations back at home for many years,” the imam said.

Star Staff Writer Cameron Steele: 256-235-3562. On Twitter @Csteele_star.
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