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Observing Ramadan in the Five Towns

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Charity, fasting, and introspection, that is what the next month has in store for more than one billion Muslims across the globe. Ramadan has begun.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, and began on May 15, it marks the month that the Quran, the Islamic holy book, was revealed to the prophet Muhammad. Observant Muslims spend the following 29 or 30 days (depending on the lunar cycle) fasting between sunrise and sunset.

“The purpose of Ramadan is to make you pious,” explained Tanvir Ahmad, the president of the Islamic Center of the Five Towns in Hewlett. “You refine your thought process, yourself, and you can feel the hunger. By feeling the hunger you can understand how the people who don’t have food, it’s a time of reflection.”

Iftar, the breaking of the fast, is served, sometimes at homes and sometimes mosques, following the prayer at sundown. As Muhammad did, Muslims will break their fasts with dates and water before digging into larger meals, which often vary based on ethnicity.

“The first few days are kind of difficult but then our body adjusts,” said Shahnaz Mallik, who prays at the Islamic Center. “It is highly encouraged to share in breaking the fast with others, and according to prophetic tradition, the person who feeds a fasting person shares the reward for fasting.”

The elderly, sick, young and pregnant can all be exempted from fasting, but are encouraged to instead feed the needy or to give more to charity. Ahmad laughed with his friend Syed Sajid Husain, while remembering times he would sneak food while growing up, then said that sometimes kids as young as nine or 10 can participate because they see their parents and relatives fasting. “Sometimes [children] will take a half day to fast,” added Husain.

Charity is also a major focus during Ramadan, and in some families, children may receive gifts for the good deeds they’ve done on Eid al-Fitr, the end of holy month. “It’s a big celebration,” said Afaf Nasher, the executive director of the New York chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations. “Family and friends gather together, it’s really just a happy day to commemorate everything that happened during the month.”

Nasher added that many mosques hold interfaith events, sometimes holding services at other houses of worship, adding that many other religions, such as Judaism, Hinduism and Catholicism also fast to observe certain holidays. “The notion of fasting is nothing new,” said Nasher. “It’s a way of remembering that there are many commonalities between our religious practices.”

Ahmad said they welcome people of other faiths coming to the Islamic Center to learn about Ramadan, “They can come anytime,” he said. “Just let us know… It’s better, if a guest is coming you prepare.”

For more information on the Islamic Center of the Five Towns, go to www.icftli.com.