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How America makes Ramadan easier



Ramadan, the month-long fasting for Muslims worldwide, began this year for me on May 16th. But no one in my New York mosque knew that it would take place until the night before, when the crescent moon was the beginning of the new month, visible above the horizon. Where the sky was cloudy, the mosques relied on mosques in sunny places. Once a mosque confirmed the validity of the sighting, it would declare the official beginning of Ramadan. The Islamic calendar is based on the lunar cycle, and the beginning of a new month is subject to moonlighting.

Some young American Muslims are now challenging this tradition. They argue that Muslims should rely on calculations predicting the visibility of the crescent at any location, rather than waiting until the last minute to see if fasting begins in the morning or the day after tomorrow. Count me to those who want to plan their next meal with ease.

Ramadan fasting ̵

1; which requires total abstention from water and food – lasts from dawn to dusk. This is a 14 hour fast in mid-May. The first few days try it. I miss my morning coffee, my afternoon snack. A touch of cinnamon buns or roasted garlic on the streets of Manhattan makes me go faster. But by the time Ramadan is over, I instinctively withdraw my hand when I offer a pastry or samosa. My clothes are better and my blood sugar is great. I find it easier to keep the five daily prayers consistent, especially at dawn.

My husband does not fast, which means a lonely morning meal for me. He is being treated for cancer and has to take his medication and stay hydrated. Sick, pregnant and nursing women are freed from fasting. However, they are required either to catch up on the missed fast at a later date or to feed the poor for every missed fast day. To make up for my husband's abstinence from fasting, we donate for the soup kitchen in our neighboring church

Ramadan also affects our bank account. Muslims have to spend at least 2.5% of their savings, gold and commercial property each year. It can be tedious to calculate my gold jewelry – most of it in the form of wedding gifts – but I will always locate this piece of business at the end of Ramadan. It reminds me that tradition is not just physical, but holistic.

During these long days of fasting, I long for the time when Ramadan will return to the shorter December days. The lunar month has 29 or 30 days and only 355 days a year. As a result, Ramadan shifts 10 days a year, year by year. In fifteen years it will start in the middle of winter. Throughout their lives, Muslims experience fasting in every season. As tradition has it, I extend my extended family and friends faithfully and wish them blessed Ramadan. When I talk to my cousin in Australia – where it's winter – she reminds me that her fast day lasts only nine hours. But it will be their turn: Ramadan is a tradition of equal opportunities.

I told my 14-year-old granddaughter that she should not quarrel with her school friends because there are no fights during Ramadan. This, of course, causes them to wonder if fighting outside Ramadan is allowed. But the idea is to cultivate restraint so that when Ramadan is over, one has developed a habit of warding off aggression.

Ramadan can try in countless ways, but this month I often feel America's extraordinary commitment to pluralism. Muslims make little more than 1% of the US population, according to the Pew Research Center, but I have been helped countless times by non-Muslims in my 46 years in this country.

How to deal with the gym class without water? A Michigan High School allowed Muslim students to practice at night after breaking their fast. When my son was at Haverford College and had to have breakfast early at 4am, the cafeteria gave him breakfast every day. During my working days, my boss and colleagues made sure that no food meetings were planned during Ramadan. These simple acts of kindness and accommodation confirmed my belief in the American value of religious freedom.

Every year, some of my non-Muslim friends decide to fast next to us while we attend our annual interdenominational iftar – breaking the fast at sunset – in our home. Together we enjoy sweetened milk and kebabs. Will you come to us for just one day?

Ms. Rehman is the author of "Threading My Prayer Rug: A Woman's Journey from Pakistani Muslims to American Muslims" (Arcade, 2016).


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