Not one bite of food or sip of water from sunup to sundown. No alcohol. No sex. No tobacco.
The Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which began May 26 this year and ends Saturday, is hard. It’s supposed to be. It’s a time of sacrifice but also a time to focus on God and faith and family.
“We keep reminding people that we do not view Ramadan as a burden,” said Aadil Farid, former president of the Naperville Islamic Center. “We view Ramadan as an opportunity, as a platform, as a tool that enriches our mind, body and soul. It provides us an opportunity to stop and think and reflect. By refraining from food, it allows us to think that we are connected with the entirety of humanity through very basic needs.”
For healthy adults, fasting begins at sunrise, which in Naperville was 5:23 a.m. on the first day of Ramadan and 5:19 a.m. on the last.) Any meal must be consumed before that time. Then it’s no dinner until sunset. The only people excluded are the elderly, children, pregnant women, and anyone who is ill, although all must participate in daily prayers and reading from the Quran, and can abstain from other things, such as watching television.
Ramadan is divided into three parts that each last 10 days. The final 10 days are considered the most blessed and the most important. “Within those last 10 days is when the first verses of the Quran were actually revealed,” Aadil Farid said.
The month of fasting and prayer is meant to be a time when people reassess their lives and improve their relationship with God and others, said Safa Farid, 22, Aadil Farid’s daughter.
“When you’re not focusing on things meant to survive, like eating, sleeping and drinking, then you’re more focused on the spiritual side of you,” Safa Farid said. “Then you can focus more on looking into the word of God and seeing what he said and working on your soul, essentially.”
During Ramadan, many mosques and Islamic centers offer fast-breaking meals, called iftar, and prayer after sunset.
The fast is traditionally broken with the consumption of dates, which the Prophet Mohammed consumed to break his own fast after God revealed the first verses of the Quran to him. Women eat and pray separate from the men, and the Islamic Center serves dinner to about 450 or 500 people each night.
Because the dates of Ramadan are set by the lunar calendar, the times of meals and prayers will change with the time of year.
The message is reinforced that the holy month is a time for self-evaluation, self-improvement and rededication to the faith, but many worshipers experience the “Ramadan slump” in the middle of the month, Safa Farid said.
The beginning of Ramadan draws excitement and a sense of community as people get to see their friends and family every day for the nightly prayers during Ramadan, she said.
“After the first week or week and a half, the fatigue kind of starts to kick in from your lack of energy and your lack of sleep,” she said. But things kick into high gear at the end, Farid and her father agreed.
With the last days of Ramadan nearing, the end of the holy month and the heightened spirituality felt during that time can leave some people feeling depressed, Aadil Farid said.
“In fact, we do cry when the month of Ramadan is departing, because this blessed month brings so many beautiful gifts,” Farid said. “It allows the community to come together. This month brings the gift of mercy, the gift of forgiveness, the gift of salvation. As this month is departing, you feel that something is going to be missing in your life.”
Many men and women will abstain from bad habits and give more to charity during Ramadan, but it can be difficult to carry those practices through the rest of the year.
“We believe that within the month of Ramadan, all of the devils are kind of chained away so that we can focus on bettering ourselves,” Safa Farid said. “So then after Ramadan ends, those devils can kind of be brought back into our lives and they’re kind of unchained.”
Naperville resident Aamir Chalisa said Ramadan is a month of rejoicing and a chance for families to experience “good, quality time” together.
During much of the year, Chalisa said, his family is running around in separate pursuits because of work, school or other activities. During the month of Ramadan, however, his family gathers for breakfast together before dawn and again for dinner after sunset.
“In this electronic age, this is the one time when you are getting together,” he said. “I see more of my children during this month than I see them the rest of the year.”
With advances in technology, many people can read the Quran on a tablet or a smartphone, but the basis of Ramadan, the fasting from sunrise to sunset, remains unchanged.
“It allows us to detach from the worldly life; it allows us to recognize the greed within and curtail that. Our needs are very narrow,” Aadil Farid said. “It is our desire to have more and more and more. The month of Ramadan is a very profound reminder that we ought to take care of those who are in need.”