During the Islamic lunar holy month of Ramadan, Muslims all over the world fast for 29 to 30 days from sunrise to sundown; however, this is no kick start to a diet.
Dates break the fast, an Islamic tradition when the Prophet Muhammad broke the fast with three dates, followed by an iftar, the evening dinner to break the fast.
Aiken residents Mohammad Hailat, his wife Wafa and their three out of five children, Dana, 25, Tareq, 17, and Dania, 13, serve up a dinner with copious amount of white rice, dishes of zucchini stuffed with lamb meat, drenched in a yogurt-type sauce, with of course a Mediterranean-style salad on the side. Then it is followed by a giant bowl of fruit, chocolate, apple pie and ice cream and traditionally Turkish coffee. While the food may have a slight American twist, the dinner represents a Middle Eastern feel. Mohammad is originally from Jordan, Wafa moved from Palestine to Jordan and the children were raised there as well.
The food serves an important role within the holy month, but the meaning of Ramadan is much bigger.
“People always ask, oh my God do you faint, how do you function or why don’t you get dehydrated?” Dana said. “It’s bearable. I always say fasting is easier done than said. People can’t imagine it, but once you’re doing it and you’re doing it for a religious reason it’s easier because you have a higher reason.”
Ramadan is the annual period of spiritual “niyyah” and increased worship, self-discipline and control as a way to connect closer to Allah and the Quran. During the month, Muslims fast, an observance of one of the Five Pillars of Islam. Muslims are supposed to also abstain from swearing, gossip, inappropriate behavior and sexual intercourse. They are also asked to participate in charity, giving a portion of their income to those in need.
Typically iftars represent a moment when family, friends and community members gather to celebrate the end of the day.
Muslims pray five times a day, everyday, but before dessert, the family practices Tarawih, the added nightly prayers during Ramadan. While the men stand in front and women in the back, recitation of the Quran is both said out loud and privately. Only a portion of the Quran is usually recited because at the end of the month the entire Quran will be complete, although there are many who recite the entire Quran during the nightly prayer. Dana and Dania do not wear hijabs, the head covering for women, but during prayer, both cover from head to toe, excluding their face. Because they are not performing Tarawih in a mosque, as there is no mosque in Aiken, the Hailat’s use a prayer rug. The prayer rug, decorated with ornate detail and an arc represents the direction toward the holy city of Mecca.
Like any major holiday function, the iftar carries on for hours with discussion and laughter, a few taunts and jabs from brother to sister, sisters to brother and then a turn to current news and politics. Because this is one of the first times Ramadan occurs when school is not in session, both Mohammad, Mathematical Sciences Department Chair at USC Aiken, and Wafa, who teaches at Georgia Regents University, are able to relax during the day. Tareq and Dania are out of school, which means they play soccer, hang out with friends and sleep for hours.
“Many think you wake up at four in the morning and go to sleep doesn’t make sense,” Mohammad said. “I think because in the old days they were farmers and shepherds who used to go to work super early and these days people go to work at 8 a.m. When we were kids and my dad had a farm, we woke up before sunrise and it’s much easier.”
As the day turns into midnight, the Hailats slowly turn for bed but must soon wake up for sunrise for a pre-fast meal called suhoor, followed by the first prayer of the day, Fajr.
Eid al-Fitr marks the end to Ramadan filled with large amounts of food, visits from family members from out of town, prayer and ongoing festivities into the night.
The three day festival is an important Islamic celebration, the other occurring after the Hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca. Sweet desserts are typically served on Eid and gives a chance for Muslims to give thanks to Allah for allowing them to perform the duty of fasting.
Many wonder how Ramadan and physical activities like sports mix. In other countries or areas where Muslims are heavility populated, work is put on hold and businesses may be shut down. But, for many in the United States, work and life go on, including sports.
“When Tareq was playing soccer during Ramadan at a tournament in Columbia, he was fasting,” Mohammad said. “He used to play during the middle of the day when the sun was very hot and the other people on the team would have a break during the game and get water. But we used to take him in the car, turn up the AC and Wafa would read the Quran to him and he’d just relax.”
For the Hailat family and many others around the world, Ramadan is a joyous holiday bringing the family together.
“With families not close to one another anymore, it’s hard to invite everyone for the holiday,” Mohammad said. “But you divide out the holiday because having the family together is what’s important.”
Maayan Schechter is a beat reporter with Aiken Standard and joined the paper in July.
Photo by Maayan Schechter From left, Dana Hailat, 25 and Dania Hailat, 13 recite the nightly prayers after Iftar. When prayering, women must cover everything, but may leave their face exposed.×
Photo by Maayan Schechter From left, Dania Hailat, 13, Dana Hailat, 25, and Tareq Hailat, 17, recite part of the Quran after dinner. Their father, Mohammad Hailat, watches on.×
Photo by Maayan Schechter If not in a mosque, Muslims use a prayer rug as a temporary mosque. All rugs depict an arch facing the holy city of Mecca.×
Photo by Maayan Schechter Dana Hailat, 25 shows off her attire during prayer which covers her entire body, except her face.×