Ready for Ramadan: Fasting is already underway

Jessica Sprowl

Chereen Gamal, a graduate community counseling student and president of the Muslim Student Association, and fellow Muslims began the holy month of Ramadan Tuesday.

Credit: Steve Schirra

“Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds; and blessings and peace be upon our Prophet Muhammad and upon all his Family and Companions.”

Tuesday began the month of Ramadan, or “month of blessing,” for those of the Islamic faith. During the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, all Islamic followers fast (go without food and liquids) from sunrise to sunset for an entire month. Eating and drinking is only allowed after the last prayer of the day and before the first prayer the following day.

The first of six prayers during Ramadan starts at 6 a.m. or before sunrise, the second begins at 1 p.m., the third is at 5 p.m., the fourth is at 7 p.m., the fifth is at 8 p.m., and the sixth is called Taraweeh, which takes place immediately after the fifth prayer.

For those of the Islamic religion, Ramadan becomes a time to appreciate being favored by God and reflect on those less fortunate, said Ali Hussein, junior English major.

“It increases the faith and belief in God,” Hussein said. “When you fast, you stay away from committing sins and become more fearful of God.”

The month of Ramadan is believed to have originated around 610 A.D., when the angel Gabriel descended down from Heaven to Muhammad, and he was enlightened by the first verses of the Quran given by Allah. Over the next 23 years, the rest of the Quran was revealed to Muhammad, and he became the Islamic prophet.

Hussein, who is from Yemen, thinks being away from home during Ramadan will be harder for his family back home than for himself.

“I like that I will be celebrating (Ramadan) away from home; it’s something new and different,” he said.

Hussein believes the strict discipline he will have to follow this month will not be a problem. It is the new cultural surroundings that will be tough for him. Seeing people eating and drinking all day will be different, he said.

Back home, and in most Muslim countries, restaurants are usually closed throughout the day during the month of Ramadan.

Some people are exempt from fasting: sick people, women with certain health conditions and people traveling long distances. Also, children do not fast until they go through puberty or are about 15 years old.

Even pregnant women are expected to fast during Ramadan. Hussein’s mother fasted 25 of the 30 days while pregnant, and then gave birth to one of Hussein’s brothers during Ramadan. Also, married couples are expected to refrain from any sexual acts throughout Ramadan.

Chereen Gamal, a graduate student and president of the Muslim Student Association, has had the best of both worlds.

Gamal has been fortunate enough to experience Ramadan in three different countries. Born in the United States, Gamal, who is Egyptian, has lived in Egypt on and off for about seven years and Canada for about 12 years.

“There is always the culture and the religion and they are two separate things,” she said. “It’s definitely different; I’m the minority here (in the United States).”

As a graduate student, most of Gamal’s classes are at night, and she will have to break from fasting during her classes.

Gamal hasn’t experienced any problems during Ramadan in the United States. In school, her friends used to tease her at lunch, but they were always joking, and her professors have been more than understanding.

“I have never had a problem with work and fasting either,” Gamal laughed. “My lunch breaks may just be a little more boring.”

The MSA is holding a “Fast-a-thon” at the Steels Corner Mosque Wednesday. MSA is hoping to get local businesses to donate one dollar for every person who volunteers to fast for a day. The money raised will go to the Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.

“It’s refreshing to hear from someone who tries fasting because sometimes you can get into a routine of fasting and forget what it is for,” Gamal said.

Another significant part of Ramadan is charity, Gamal said. Even though Muslims are supposed to be charitable all the time, most try to increase their giving during Ramadan.

During Ramadan, the “Night of Power” takes place on any of the last 10 odd days of Ramadan, starting with Oct. 21. This is when Muslims believe the angel Gabriel descended down to Muhammad, Gamal said. Even though no one ever knows when the “Night of Power” will fall, it is believed to be better than 1,000 months of worship.

At the end of Ramadan, everyone celebrates Eid al-Fitr, the “Feast of Fast Breaking.”

“To me, that is the point of it (Ramadan),” Gamal said. “It’s having empathy for those who cannot eat. I know I can go home and eat at night.”

Contact features correspondent Jessica Sprowl at [email protected].