For thirty days from May 27 and until June 24, Imam Vernon Fareed and other Muslims are observing Ramadan.
The 30-period of personal deprivation and rereading of the Quran, the faith holy book, is held during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which rotates from season to season each year.
From dawn to sundown, most observant and adult Sunni and Shiite Muslims must deprive themselves of water, food and sexual contact, according to Imam Fareed, the leader of the Masjid William Salaam Mosque in the Park Place Section of Norfolk.
There are over 10,000 Muslims in Hampton Roads and eight million nationally.
The observance is akin to Lent, which various Christian denominations observe for 40 days leading to Easter and traditionally involves “giving up” or abstaining from a favorite food or habit, in commemoration of the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the desert.
Fareed said he was introduced to the month-long observance as a member of the Nation of Islam (NOI), an American-born sect of Islam, founded by the Honorable Elijah Muhammad in the early 1930s.
The NOI version of the Ramadan is observed only in December; the traditional one rotates from one season to another. Fareed said that Ramadan begins for him and his family at 4:30 a.m. and ends at 8:30 p.m.
He said when he converted to traditional Islam, he discovered it was a bit more demanding.
“When the Ramadan is held in the spring, summer and early fall period, the days are long, so the fast is longer,” said Fareed. “In December the days are shorter. So when I began adopting the traditional Ramadan, I was familiar and so it was not that hard to make the adjustment.
“But the varied seasons provide a challenge regardless,” Fareed said. “When I was in the roofing business, it was rough on me in the summer months because of the heat, and I could not drink water. But I managed to adapt.”
Ramadan means “extreme heat.” In ancient times, Fareed said, to protect horses who had to traverse the hot sands of the deserts, their feet were wrapped with rags, called “ramadas” to protect them.
“The same can be said of Ramadan. Life is full of stress, tensions and anxieties,” Fareed said. “For many Muslims, the observance helps us escape the fuss of life for 30 days and connect with our God.”
Despite Ramadan, Muslims are still summoned to daily prayer and attend Mosque on Fridays, as usual.
At the end of each day’s fast at sunset, called Iftar, the family gathers for a meal of natural and health foods, such as dates or other fruit and, of course, water.
A cleansing of the digestive system and reduction in weight and other toxics are just two of the health benefits of the Ramadan fast.
Another important benefit of the observance is studying the Muslim holy book, the Quran. Each day of Ramadan, Muslims are required to read and study a third of it. Fareed said that by the end of the observance, “you will have a clear understanding of the text that guides our lives.”
“Our Christian friends want to know what we are doing during the Ramadan, and we mention the reading of the Quran,” said Fareed. “We ask them to join us in a day or two of fasting and read their Bible in thirds as much as possible, because a lot of Christian friends only know about the Bible from what they are told and not what they read for themselves.”
There are those who are exempted from practicing Ramadan, said Fareed. They include people who have chronic illnesses, such diabetes, the elderly, those in poor health or pregnant women.
On the 30th day and the observance and fasting end, there is a celebration where gifts are given similar to rituals practiced during Christmas.
“We have a huge feast, and we exchange gifts as Christians do,” said Fareed. “This is a very beautiful time for the family, and the entire community comes together and celebrates and reflects on an observance which allows us to worship and give praise to the prophet, our culture and religion.”
By Leonard E. Colvin