As Friday’s sun set, the light shone on Ramadan
Theresa Curry/For The News Virginian
Abbas Rawoot reads from the Quran and speaks to fellow Muslims on Friday at Harrisonburg’s Islamic Center of the Shenandoah Valley.
By Theresa Curry For The
Published: August 23, 2009
Ramadan was exciting even for the children of Kabul who too young to understand it, said Zahir Mahmoud, who grew up in Afghanistan’s largest city. There was a month-long fast and regular prayers, grievances were forgiven, and throughout the city, people observed the weeks of Islam’s ninth month.
Mahmoud left the city 20 years ago and now serves as the director of the Waynesboro Public Library. Other area Muslims – people from Indonesia, India, Africa, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Europe and those born in this country – pray at the Islamic Center of the Shenandoah Valley in Harrisonburg. The Valley’s Muslim residents began their Ramadan fast Saturday and will continue until Sept. 20.
Like them, more than a billion Muslims throughout the world believe that during the month of Ramadan, the Quran “was sent down from heaven, a guidance unto men, a declaration of direction and a means of salvation,” said Abbas Rawoot, speaking during the Friday prayer service at the Center.
Muhammed was visited by a figure familiar to Christians: it was the Angel Gabriel who served as the messenger, revealing to the prophet the fundamentals of Islam.
The Ramadan fast obeys the rules set down in the Quran at the same time that it honors the revelations.
“Children weren’t expected to fast,” Mahmoud said. “Still, we often tried, so we could be like the adults.”
The fast is a matter of concern this year: because the “ninth month” varies 11 days from year to year, it spans the seasons over a lifetime. For the next few years, it will fall during the heat of summer, a difficult time to abstain from water for 15 hours.
Rawoot, a Harrisonburg financial advisor, spoke about this during his readings Friday.
“It is wonderful how compassionate, merciful and forgiving our religion is,” he said. “So many of us make ourselves miserable needlessly.”
People who are ill or traveling are not obliged to observe the strict fast, he told the congregation. After the service, he offered his own son as an example.
“He’s a Peace Corps volunteer in Panama, staying with a host family,” he said. “He’s fortunate to share the food they have and he’s not in a position to dictate when they should serve it.” Rawoot’s son will pray and fast sporadically throughout the next few months in ways that don’t inconvenience his hosts.
Mahmoud said his family gets up early in the morning to eat a small meal before daybreak. “Of course, it’s hard to eat much that early, but at least I’ll have fruit and coffee,” he said.
Zeinab Hassouna, who came to Harisonburg from Egypt with her husband, a James Madison University professor, said that many Muslims break their fast with dates each day when the sun is setting in the sky.
“Some of us call Costco a week or so ahead of time to make sure they have plenty of dates,” she said.
After dark, when the main meal of the day is served, Mahmoud remembers lots of kebabs, milk-based drinks, fried vegetables, rich desserts and rice pilaf studded with nuts and fruit.
“Everyone would try to put extra calories, extra fat, extra protein into that evening meal,” he said.
In Egypt, Hassouna remembers her mother serving a variety of sweets at night.
“Normally, we might have one,” she said, “but during Ramadan, there would be many.”
Rawoot read from the Quran about the method for determining daybreak and nightfall.
“... eat and drink, until the white thread of dawn appear to you distinct from its black thread; then complete your fast till the night appears ... .” (Quran 2:187).
Dr. Ehsan Ahmed, a JMU economics professor and a leader in
the Center, said there’s an easier way, for those who may find the thread
“We have charts that track sunrise and nightfall all over the world, all through the month,” he said.
Maneah Said, who comes to the Center from Strasburg, said she finds the fast fairly easy after the first few days.
“I cook after dark for the next day, so I won’t be tempted by the smells,” she said. “One evening I sat down to a meal of fried chicken, fried potatoes and greens,” she said. “I could only manage a couple of bites and I was full.” Said, 40, a retired Pentagon employee, said she became a Muslim as a teenager in suburban Washington, D.C.
“I liked the discipline and the idea of personal responsibility,” she said.
That idea of personal responsibility is one of the keys to Ramadan, Rawoot reminded the congregation.
“It’s not all about fasting,” he said. “It’s a time to grow, to put animosity out of your mind, to remember the poor.”
Mahmoud said Muslims are to forgive their enemies and be mindful of those who are struggling all through the month.
“We would send plates of food; or give money to families in need,” he said. Rawoot reminded those at the Center for Friday prayers that several members of the Valley Muslim community are months behind on the rent.
When Ramadan ends, there are three days of celebration.
“At home, we’d all be off school and businesses would be closed,” Mahmoud said. There was special candy – he remembers a kind with walnuts dipped in honey – and people visited from home to home.
“Generally, the younger people would go to see the older people,” he said. “And, again, we’d all look out for those who didn’t have enough food to celebrate, or enough money to meet their bills. And we all got new clothes.”
During the prayer service, Rawoot talked about the importance of knowledge.
“Many Muslims don’t realize that Islamist teachers brought the thinking of the ancient Greeks to Europe,” he said. “Knowledge is like the sun that shines on the moon of the devout.”
He exhorted those at prayer to educate themselves in the real meaning of the Quran and to put aside reliance on the interpretations of others who may have hidden intentions.
Later, he acknowledged the struggle of peaceful Muslims in today’s world.
“We’ve gotten a bad rap,” he said. “People like to take our beliefs out of context. One of the purposes of Ramadan is help us get back on our path, to realize what we’re here for and, we hope, to become better people.”
Posted by ( CitizenY ) on August 25, 2009 at 3:05 pm
To the author – thank you for writing this article. . . . To the paper – thank you for publishing it . . . .
There are a few errors in this article. Breakfast (the meal) is different than breaking your fast at the end of the day. . .
Most strikingly this is apparent here. . 1) “many Muslims break their fast with dates each morning before the sun rises in the sky”. . . . Muslims break their fast at the * end of the day*, when the sun is setting. Whether they eat dates at the morning “pre-fast meal” varies - but typically they “break their fast” or begin eating again (different from what is refferred to as breakfast) at the END of the day with dates, some times plain, sometimes stuffed, sometimes with milk, etc. . .
And here 2) ““If you can’t tell a white thread from a black thread, it’s time to break your fast,” he said. “ - Incorrect. Quran 2: 187 “. . . eat and drink until the white thread of dawn appear to you distinct from its black thread; then complete your fast till the night appears. . . “ So the author misunderstood this as well. You can eat and drink until you can distinguish between a white and black thread - which really is at the early stages of the break of dawn. . . You can begin eating again when the sun sets, and as we all know, you can tell the difference between a black and white thread at that time of day.