ramadan.gifWATERBURY, Conn. (AP) _ Naveed Khan of Waterbury and his three children won’t eat food or drink water for 15 hours today, or any day, through Sept. 19.

The purpose isn’t to inflict pain; it’s to celebrate their Muslim faith as part of the 30 days of Ramadan.

“They’re really excited about it starting, they’re really excited to fast,” Khan said of his sons, ages 8 and 9, who are observing the fast this year for the first time. The month-long period coincides with the start of school for most children. Coupled with classroom demands and the trials of growing up, Ramadan is a challenge for students but it’s hardly a chore.

The holiday, observed by 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide, began on Aug. 22. It commemorates the revelation of the Muslim holy text, the Quran, to Muhammad.

The Connecticut Muslim Coalition estimates there are 100,000 Muslims in the state.

Children are required to fast once they reach puberty, usually starting around age 10. But they begin practicing at a much younger age, training their bodies to go without food for blocks of time.

The fasting is never forced.

Children tend to begin observing on their own accord, before it’s required by Muslim teachings.

Aida Mansoor, the director of the Muslim Coalition of Connecticut, said her son started fasting at age 5 after watching his parents.

“I stressed that he did not need to fast and would pack his lunch each day, but it would come back unopened as he wanted to participate,” said Mansoor, who lives in West Hartford.

During Ramadan, Muslims don’t eat or drink during daylight hours. The holiday occurs at a different time each year, based on the lunar year.

Because this year’s holiday overlaps with the start of school, practicing children don’t eat lunch with their peers. After gym class, they can’t take a swig of water to cool off.

Rarely do Muslim students ask for special treatment during Ramadan, although school systems generally accommodate special requests, said Joseph Macary, acting superintendent of Wolcott schools.

In the last three years, he could think of only one instance of a student becoming weak in school and leaving early.

Muslims stress the need to continue with everyday life during Ramadan. They fit religion into their lives, but it isn’t meant to intrude on their other obligations.

“You cannot just sleep all day; you have to continue the routine you normally do,” said Majeed Sharif, president of the United Muslim Masjid on Prospect Street.

As with the lack of food, Muslims must accustom themselves to less sleep. The long days of August mean they must eat breakfast before 5 a.m. They don’t break the fast until after 7:30 p.m., when they get together with family and friends for a special meal.

They go to the mosque at around 9 p.m. for an evening prayer that may last an hour.

The special Ramadan prayer, called Taraweeh, is an addition to the required five prayers a day.

Bedtime isn’t until 11 p.m. for many families; then they rise for breakfast at 4 a.m.

Khan, who is vice chairman of the Islamic American Society of Connecticut on Schraffts Drive, said his 16-year-old daughter quickly adapted to the rigorous schedule. She started at Waterbury Arts Magnet School on Thursday.

“The only thing is she can’t eat while she’s at school, and she can’t go to bed early,” he said.

Fasting helps Muslims empathize with less fortunate people who are starving, Sharif said, and serves as a form of self-purification. By removing distractions from their lives, they increase their focus on God.

“It brings you closer to your Lord, you get to understand more about your religion and it gives you a great satisfaction internally,” Sharif said. “It helps you to understand a lot more of what’s going on within yourself.”

The fasting period means relinquishing all excessive activities, not just food.

“When you fast, you fast with everything, your eyes and your ears,” Sharif said. “If you hear people gossiping you should walk away from that.”

At the end of Ramadan, on Sept. 20, mosques will celebrate the end of the holiday with festivities and gifts in an admitted weekend of gluttony but, they say, it’s always well earned.


Information from: Republican-American, http://www.rep-am.com