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This month, Muslims around the world are celebrating their holy month of Ramadan. Many Muslims mark the month with a daily fast.
Traditionally, Muslims who observe the month of fasting go without food or water from sunrise to sunset. They also try to forgo smoking, sex and the use of profanity.
Ramadan's start date is based on a lunar calendar, so the dates move around each year. This year, Ramadan falls in the middle of the summer, resulting in 14 to 16 hours of fasting for area Muslims.
“Fasting is like a tuneup for our soul. Like a car needs a tuneup, we need a tuneup once a year.”Abudullah Swei, Yusuf Mosque co-founder
Fatima Sattar, 29, says she's able to tough it out by getting up before sunrise to have a small meal and to drink water.
“On the surface, it might seem like you're just starving yourself,” Sattar says. “But for me, it's about sacrifice, becoming more God-conscious."
She plans to use the month to focus her efforts on studying and memorizing portions of the Quran.
Preparing The 'Iftar' Meal
Even though the religious obligation to fast is the main focus of Ramadan, eating is a big part of the experience as well.
At the Yusuf Mosque here in Brighton, more than 200 people came for a recent community “iftar” — the meal that breaks the fast.
Fifty-year-old Jamila Babbouche is originally from Morocco, but has lived in the Boston area for almost a decade. She helps prepare food for the iftar at the mosque.
"I'm making the rice with the chickpeas and the spices, like Pakistani spices,” she says, using a large spoon to stir the giant pots of the simmering mixture.
At this point, Babbouche and her colleagues have gone without food or water for more than 12 hours. Yet they're still energetic as they bustle around the kitchen. They say that God helps them make it through the long day of fasting, even when they have to work preparing food.
"Here in the kitchen, we’re OK,” Babbouche says, gesturing toward two other women working with her. “We don't need water, eat nothing. For us, it's not hard. She's OK, I'm OK and she's OK."
Abudullah Swei is a co-founder of the mosque and says Ramadan is a time for Muslims to reflect on God and also to empathize with those who regularly go without life's necessities.
"Fasting is like a tuneup for our soul,” he says. “Like a car needs a tuneup, we need a tuneup once a year."
Some people are exempt from the fast, like the very young and very old. Pregnant and breastfeeding women, as well as those who are sick or traveling great distances, also don’t have to fast.
'It's Nice To Be Eating'
When the sun finally sets just after 8 p.m., the imam delivers the call for prayer, which officially ends the day of fasting.
Volunteers at the mosque serve the traditional dried dates, accompanied by a cup of milk, water or juice. After the snack, the group heads upstairs to pray, then sits down for their long-anticipated meal.
Sattar catches up with some friends she hasn't seen since last Ramadan. “It's a good time,” she says as she enjoys honeyed bread, a Moroccan sweet dish. “It's nice to be eating."
Throughout the month, many local mosques will host community iftars like this one, as well as big feasts on the last day of Ramadan.
Sattar says the first few days of fasting are usually the hardest, but she enjoys the sense of community she gets from ending the daily struggle with others.
“Yup, Ramadan day one, we made it. Feels good," she says. "And actually, it wasn't too bad. I think each day will get easier as the days get shorter as well.”
The Muslim holy month of Ramadan ends on Aug. 31.
This program aired on August 2, 2011.
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