When Ramadan comes along each year, Bassam Asfoor makes sure he’s up early — at least a half-hour before dawn — to eat cereal, a meal that will carry him through a day of fasting. The Chandler man gets up some of his children to make sure they beat the dawn deadline for eating.
“Some don’t want to wake up,” he says. “They would rather go without eating. They appreciate sleeping more than eating.”
Fasting during daylight hours is part of a Muslim’s observance of the month of Ramadan, which begins Sept. 23 across the Islamic world. Ramadan, the ninth month on the Islamic calendar, arrives about 11 days earlier each year because the religion is based on the lunar calendar. Unlike holidays of most religions that typically fall at some point inside of a season through a formula, Islamic observances follow a 33-year rotation. Thus Ramadan eventually comes at all seasons of the year.
Traditionally, a few Muslims in a community have scanned the night skies for any sign of the new moon and if they find it, they announce Ramadan will begin the following day. But accurate astronomical technology has made the old way redundant.
Ramadan is Islam’s holiest time of the year.
“For Muslims, it is a time to go back to their Lord, remember the Lord and remember the bounties that the Lord gave them for their health, family — everything we have,” Asfoor said. Allah, or God, is remembered for “all the bounties” of life.
Part of the benefit of spiritual refection, he said, is to remember those people in the world in great need and suffering.
Fasting during daylight hours comes abruptly and makes Muslims realize what they have been taking for granted in their lives. “When you are abstaining from eating and drinking, this is a time to remember there are people in the world that are hungry and thirsty,” Asfoor said.
Nura Elatari said Muslims everywhere have been full of anticipation for Ramadan. “We can basically indulge ourselves in the month of Ramadan,” said Elatari, communications director for the the Arizona chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “It’s a month of spirituality and a time to meditate and really be with God. It’s going to be a time for us to retreat from the world.”
While such withdrawal for a month can’t generally happen, Muslims are able to use Ramadan to go deeper into their faith “and really pray that this month will bring us goodness for the year to come,” she said.
Many of the Valley’s more than 80,000 Muslims will gather at 14 mosques for nightly prayer and recitations of the Quran, as well as regular Friday afternoon prayers.
The relentless world conflicts, especially those that affect Muslims, make the respite of Ramadan sweeter, Elatari and Asfoor said. “Ramadan is supposed to be a time for us to really focus on God and maybe bring us back together again,” Elatari said. “It has united us in wartime. People are still living in fear, and the war will still be on people’s minds, but they are only going to hope this holy month will only bring goodness.”
’WE ARE PEACEFUL’
This week’s fifth anniversary remembrance of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, may draw renewed attention to Muslims, but Asfoor said it won’t have a negative effect on Ramadan. “We feel it was a horrific event, but we had nothing to do with it,” he said. “We don’t agree with whoever did it, and a lot of Muslims feel we should not even be associated with that.”
“We are peaceful and lawabiding citizens. We live in this country. We are part of this country, and we don’t want to be linked to that event,” he said.
He called it unfortunate that Muslims “have been under the spotlight since Sept. 11. People in the media or in general paint everybody with a wide paintbrush,” said Asfoor, a Palestinian-Jordanian who came to the U.S. 28 years ago.
Elatari said the Muslim community has grown stronger in responding to the annual 9/11 remembrances. Muslims don’t feel they have to defend themselves, “but of course, it is very tense. Everybody is kind of on eggshells, and they don’t want to say anything.”
The American-Islamic council has sought to move quickly to respond to anti-Islamic incidents, she said, as well as actively reaching out with education about Islam.
“We are here to educate, and we are here to open our doors — and people have been very welcoming,” she said.
Ramadan at a glance
• Sept. 23 to Oct. 22 for 2006.
• Ninth month of Islamic calendar.
• Entire Quran should be read in month.
• Fasting — No eating, drinking, smoking, sexual activity from dawn to sunset.
• Elderly, the ill, pregnant women, young children and travelers are exempt from fasting.
• Five daily prayers are required for fasting to have meaning.
• Daily fasts are broken with dates and water.
• Charitable acts are expected.
• 27th day is Laylat Al Quadr, or Night of the Power, marking the night the Prophet Muhammad received the first revelation of the Quran.
• Muslims gather together each night at mosques to recite the Taraweeh prayer.
• The joyous festival of Eid Al-Fitr (Festival of the Breaking of the Fast) ends Ramadan with grand meal with family and friends.