Chicago Sun Times: Ramadan fast more than food, water

Chicago attorney Janaan Hashim will begin fasting for Ramadan the morning after the new moon is first sighted over North America, probably tonight. Her husband will start when it's seen over the Middle East. And many other Muslims, such as Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, will begin fasting at dawn today, based on a newer interpretation of lunar cycles.

Regardless of when the holy month of Ramadan begins, local believers say it's a time to do much more than just sacrifice food and water.

Devout Muslims are supposed to not only fast -- including drinking water and even chewing gum -- from dawn till sunset for the month, they also must resist bad habits such as gossiping and getting angry, and refrain from sex and smoking.

Exemptions from the fast cover the very young and old, sick people, nursing and pregnant women and travelers.

Hashim, an assistant appellate defender and spokeswoman for the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, says the ban on idle chatter is even harder than going without food.

"I'll be honest with you -- the hardest thing for me to fast from is the fasting from bad behavior," she said.

Hashim says she first undertook the fast at the tender age of 6. She didn't push her own children to take part at such a young age, though one daughter did the same thing.

'Training month' for year

"According to my parents, I was a very determined young lady," Hashim said. A public school student, Hashim remembers having to sit in the lunchroom while her non-Muslim classmates ate their sandwiches. Once a teacher tried to give her lunch money, thinking her parents must have forgotten to feed her.

Habeeb Quadri, principal of the Muslim Community Center Full Time School in Morton Grove, said some first-graders want to fast for a day or two. The kids are allowed to sit in a separate area during the lunch period -- and teachers are warned that their charges may wilt by day's end.

Most of the older students fast for the full month, Quadri said. During Ramadan, the school shortens its day by an hour and 10 minutes and cuts down on homework, to allow students time to take part in the large meals that families typically serve in the evening and to attend prayer services.

More important, he said, the students focus on appreciating what they have and doing charitable works. "We call this our training month for the rest of the year," Quadri said.

Rehab said he, too, is reminded to not take things for granted. "When I see a homeless person at Ramadan, I have a lot more understanding," he said.

szimmermann@suntimes.com

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