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Muslims face long days of fasting as Ramadan begins
By Madhu Krishnamurthy | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 8/11/2010 12:00 AM

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Fasting common to many faiths

"O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint."

- The Holy Quran, Chapter 2: Verse 183

Bahai: The Bahai fast is during Ala, the 19th month of the Baha'í year, March 2-20. Believers abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset.

Buddhist: All main branches of Buddhism practice some periods of fasting, usually on full-moon days and other holidays. Depending on the tradition, fasting means abstaining from solid food, with some liquids permitted.

Catholic: Catholics fast and abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and abstain from meat every Friday during Lent.

Eastern Orthodox: There are several fast periods, including Lent, Apostles' Fast, Dormition Fast, and the Nativity Fast, and several one-day fasts. Every Wednesday and Friday is considered a fast day, except those that fall during designated "fast-free weeks." Meat, dairy products, and eggs are prohibited. Fish is prohibited on some fast days and allowed on others.

Hindu: Fasting commonly practiced on New Moon days and during festivals as Shivaratri, Saraswati Puja, and Durga Puja (also known as Navaratri). Women in North India also fast on the day of Karva Chauth for the health and welfare of their husbands. Fasting may involve 24 hours of complete abstinence from food or drink; more often it is an elimination of solid foods, with an occasional drink of milk or water.

Jewish: Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, is the best-known fast day. The Jewish calendar has six other fast days as well, including Tisha B'Av, the day on which the destruction of the Jewish Temple took place. On Yom Kippur and Tisha B'Av, eating and drinking are forbidden for 25 hours, sundown to sundown. On the other fast days, eating and drinking are forbidden from sunrise to sundown.

Mormon: The first Sunday of each month is a fast day. Individuals, families or wards may hold other fasts at will; they abstain from food and drink for two consecutive meals and donate food or money to the needy.

Protestant (Evangelical): At the discretion of individuals, churches, organizations or communities. Some abstain from food or drink entirely, others drink only water or juice, eat only certain foods, skip certain meals, or abstain from temptations of all kind.

Protestant (mainline): Not a major part of the tradition, but fasts can be held at the discretion of communities, churches, other groups and individuals.

Sources: IslamiCity.com, Beliefnet.com

Glendale Heights mom Tayyaba Syed has fasted every Ramadan since she was a teenager, but this year will be her first experience fasting through long summer days.

That's 151/2 hours of no food and water during daylight hours, when the heat index can climb to 100 degrees.

Unimaginable for some, yet, the Chicago area's 400,000 Muslims will face that challenge this Ramadan.

Wednesday marks the first fast of the Islamic holy month, which ends Sept. 9. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar in which the first verses of the Quran were revealed to Prophet Muhammad.

In this month, Muslims are required to abstain from food, drink, sexual relations and other sensual pleasures from before sunrise until sunset, to learn self-restraint.

"It's going to be a tough month for sure, chasing after the kids, the heat," said 29-year-old Syed, a mother of two and freelance writer. "Usually (with) fasting, I get more thirsty than hungry."

The objective of fasting in Islam, like in many other religions, is to get closer to God. Abstaining from food and water also helps Muslims appreciate their blessings and understand what people who are less fortunate endure.

"Our experience is only a sample of what they go through," Syed said. "We're fortunate we have (food) in abundance. And at the end of the day we can have this really big meal."

Driven by the lunar calendar, each year Ramadan moves earlier by about 11 days. In a few years it will fall during June and July, the hottest months of the year.

Ghulam Farooqie of Des Plaines has fasted in the hot summers of Hyderabad, India, and Dubai. Compared to that, he doesn't think this year's fast should be too taxing.

"Here we have air conditioning," Farooqie said. "When I was growing up, there was no air conditioning."

Even so, fasting for Ramadan purposefully tests the faithful, said Farooqie, president of the Islamic Community Center of Des Plaines.

"This is like a bond between the Creator and the creation. When we make our intention (to fast), Alhamdullilah God helps us."

Though every Muslim is obligated to fast, there are exemptions. People who are ill, the elderly, children who have not reached puberty, travelers and women who are pregnant, nursing or menstruating need not fast.

Anyone physically unable to fast must feed someone in need for every fast missed.

Muslims began their fast today at 4:29 a.m. after eating a pre-dawn meal called suhoor - perhaps the most important meal of the day for those fasting, said Kiran Ansari Rasul, communications director for the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago.

"Many people think they can skip it, if they have a late night snack," said Rasul, of Roselle. "What we're recommending is (people) have a very nutritious suhoor. Instead of filling up on carbs, you should make it a more protein-rich suhoor and hydrate."

Rasul recommends drinking lots of water before and after the fast, which Muslims break at dusk, about 8 p.m., with a meal known as iftar.

Rasul prepares meals for the month in advance and freezes them so she won't be tempted to taste while cooking.

Some Muslims begin fasting the month before Ramadan to get into the habit of waking up early and observing fasts.

Rasul said a tip for working Muslims is to take a power nap during the day on what otherwise would be their lunch break.

Her husband, Azfar, a systems analyst, chooses to work earlier, 7 a.m.-3 p.m., during Ramadan - common in some Middle Eastern countries where work shuts down earlier for everyone.

But with the hardship comes even greater rewards, Rasul said.

"It seems hard for the outsider," Rasul said. "But if you feel that this is a blessing to have reached Ramadan again ... you are going to enjoy the sweetness of it."