Muslims in Red Deer and around the world are wrapping up their third week of fasting for Ramadan, the holiest period in the Islamic calendar.
For Haleema Natiq, it’s not only a time of prayer and heightened devotion, but also an opportunity to share her religion with others.
“My coworkers have been able to learn about what I do and how I do it and why,” said Natiq, who works at the Central Alberta Refugee Effort. “I’ve had a lot of people come up to me who didn’t know that donating food to those in need or things like the food bank is a part of Ramadan.”
During Ramadan, Natiq cooks an abundance of food and shares it with others less fortunate in the community — “to give back,” she said, adding that charity and compassion are big components of the holy month.
“We learn to be more grateful. I start appreciating the things I’ve been blessed with and I learn there is so much more I can be doing for others.”
Ramadan starts with the sighting of a new moon marking the ninth month of the Islamic year. It honours the time when the Qur’an, the sacred text, is said to have been revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, the founder of the religion. Muslims pray five times a day and are encouraged to recite the entire Qur’an, which is composed of 114 surahs (or chapters) all of different lengths, during Ramadan. The holy month can last for 28 or 29 days, depending on the lunar cycle.
In addition to abstaining from food and drink during the daylight hours of Ramadan, swearing and fighting is especially discouraged.
“Fasting is just not in Islam; you find it in all other religions as well,” said Sayid Ali Ibrahim, president of the Red Deer Islamic Centre. “Islam means to surround yourself with God and this is God’s order. You have to practise that.”
There are exceptions. The elderly, sick and pregnant, menstruating or breast feeding women do not have to fast. They can make up for it later, Ibrahim said.
“Fasting is also about sharing the hardships with the poor. So many places, especially in Asia and Africa, there are people struggling. You know a bit of how they feel when you are fasting,” Ibrahim said.
With Ramadan falling in the middle of summer where days are long and hot, some think the holy month is more challenging.
Not so, said Ibrahim.
“Trust me, I work eight to 10 hours a day. Yes, you feel a little bit hungry, but it’s all about dedication and God will take care of you. There really is no difficulty.”
A number of Muslims gather at Salah El Deen mosque on Douglas Avenue every night to break the day’s fast around 9:55 p.m.
Here they can also participate in Tarawih, a special type of non-obligatory, after-evening prayers where the Qur’an is recited.
Ramadan is also a month of forgiveness, said Bashir Osman Hareed, the iman (leader of worship) at Salah El Deen.
“If you’re hoping God will forgive you, this is the time to forgive yourself,” he said. “It’s also about training yourself, controlling your desires for the year ahead.”
The closing of Ramadan is celebrated with Eid al-Fitr, a massive communal feast.
Ibrahim said he expected upwards of 500 people to show up and they are still looking for a place to hold the event.
For Natiq, Eid will be a special time with family, including her visiting in-laws from Pakistan and Ontario.
This Ramadan was especially memorable as Natiq’s four-year old son, Shazeb Siddiqui, was starting to understand what was going on, she said.
“He sees I’m not eating during the day, that we’re putting out religious candles, we’re praying five times a day and while he doesn’t know how to pray like we do yet, he stands with me and does the gestures. It’s been nice to do that.”