Although the month of Ramadan is still five days away, Abdelmoneim and Amal Mabrouk and their seven of nine children still at home have already been practicing fasting, to suppress their eating habits and direct their hearts away from worldly activity.
The Chandler family recognizes struggles ahead when they will go without food or beverage from daybreak to sunset for a full month.
“It’s a good practice for you,” says 11-year-old Yessen. “In the first days, it’s really hard because you’re not used to it, and then after 10 days, you are still struggling.” During the last 10 days of the Islamic holy month, Mabrouk family members practice a custom of sleeping the night at the mosque. It comes with great anticipation of completing the full month of fasting, the third pillar of Islam.
Ramadan will likely begin on Thursday, although Islamic sky gazers must detect the first sliver of the New Moon with the naked eye, as is tradition, to make it official. The ninth month of the Islamic calendar, Ramadan comes about 11 days earlier each year because Islam follows a lunar calendar. In the course of 33 Western calendar years, the Islamic year goes full circle. Ramadan is also a month when Muslims commonly read the entire Quran anew. Prayers are said nightly at all mosques, with a recitation of a 30th of the Quran each evening so that it will be completed in the month.
Now, Muslims in the Northern Hemisphere brace for their fasting month moving more and more into the hottest months of the year, prompting greater thirst.
Muslims are reminded that the Prophet Muhammad began the revelation of the Quran during the month of Ramadan in A.D. 610.
The four Mabrouk sons are in stride to one day have the holy Quran set to memory in Arabic. In fact, the oldest, Mohamed, 16, a senior at Tempe’s Corona del Sol High School, has already accomplished that. He had previously debated whether to go out for football or go to the mosque four to six times a week for intensive two-hour study that includes memorizing the Quran. His bedroom wall displays his certificates from that study, along with a bumper sticker, “Even a smile is charity.”
“It was tough because I really wanted to play football and basketball and go out for the team,” Mohamed said. Classes were 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. “I had to choose one, so I ended up choosing Quran because football is just a seasonal thing, but the Quran is going to stay with me forever.” His goal is to graduate and go to Egypt and spend seven years studying Sharia, or Islamic law, and possibly become an imam and lead a mosque somewhere.
In June, a south Tempe mosque certified Mohamed after he was tested on Quran memorization and recitation proficiency.
“Actually, it is the most memorized book in the whole world,” he said. “That’s more difficult in America because there isn’t a mosque right around the corner” for learning.
He says he still reviews the Quran to maintain that skill and teaches children at the mosque. “If I go to the mosque and the imam isn’t there, they usually push me forward and say, 'You do the prayers,’ ” Mohamed said.
Children, along with the sick, elderly, pregnant or traveling Muslims, do not have to fast during daytime hours. “I don’t have to fast, but I try to fast,” said 9-year-old Yousef, who typically holds off eating or drinking for half a day. He eagerly awaits the iftar, or evening meal, when the family breaks that day’s fast.
Their custom is to start out eating several sweet dates, or sometimes soup, to ready the stomach for the first food since before daylight.
“During Ramadan, my mom makes really good food like we don’t normally have other days,” Yousef said, smiling.
Eman, 19, a community college student who hopes to go into medicine, will come home from school early each afternoon to help her mother prepare the evening meal, refraining from even tasting what they are cooking. “It’s always a big feast, like a turkey dinner at Thanksgiving,” she said.
Eman said fasting teaches her self-control and patience.
Fasting also causes people around her to inquire. “When people talk to me, I say, ’I’m fasting,’ ” she said, and that leads to a conversation. “It gives you an opportunity to tell them about Islam.”
Hana, 15, said she refrains from talking much while she fasts to reduce dry mouth and thirst. “I’m just really disciplined by the end of the month,” she said. Eating less during Ramadan ”helps you feel for people who don’t have enough food.” Medical studies of Ramadan fasting have shown benefits, including a slowdown of basal metabolism, more efficient use of fat and changes in cholesterol.
At high school, Hana said she and her fasting friends spend their lunch hour hanging out at the library or classrooms “or somewhere away from the food — or we just walk around.”
The Mabrouk children acknowledge that their parents expect them to strictly follow Islamic teachings. “My dad really wants to push me because he knows there are greater rewards in it,” said Taha, 13. “He wants that for me, so I shouldn’t reject that. I should take the opportunity.”
The Kyrene del Pueblo Middle School student said he reads his Quran lesson, usually one page, seven times in a row “so I have the rhythm.” Once he has mastered the rhythm, he said, memorizing comes easily. He admits he doesn’t always grasp the full meaning of the text, noting that the “slang Arabic” that his family uses at home differs from the formal Arabic of the Quran.
“The main thing is to prepare the kids to be good citizens in the country,” said Abdelmoneim, father of five daughters and four sons, ages 7 to 22 and all born in the U.S.
“Ramadan is always a special month to me — it is a blessing month,” the Alexandria, Egypt, native said. “It is a spiritual, educational and social month to me.”
Especially during the month, the family seems to constantly be going or coming from a mosque for classes and prayers, he said.
His wife, Amal, becomes excited in talking about the month. “Ramadan is the best of the best. It is very spiritual to me,” she said. “It is gathering a lot of family and friends together. You go to the mosque every day for the prayers. ... It is very bonding for us.” She said it’s an extra challenge raising their family in a society where Islam is a minority religion. “They go to public school where they don’t celebrate (things Islamic),” she said. “When they go there and it is lunchtime, they become very frustrated. We are fasting. We cannot eat, and when they come home, we have to keep them very patient. You try to keep them busy until sunset.”
“For me, as a mom, I try to cook everyone something they like,” she said.
All in all, Amal said, “the people here are nice, actually,” and they respect what Muslim parents are trying to instill in their children.
Valley Muslims will gather in one place on the final day of Ramadan, Oct. 13, for Eid al-Fitr (Festival of the Breaking of the Fast) prayers. Afterward, they will gather together in festive meals and exchange gifts.