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Welcome to Ramadan

Ramadan abroad

Far from home, local Muslims strive to fast, give charity
"O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may obtain piety." Qur'an 2:183

In the Qur'an, Muslims are told to fast so that they may achieve taqwa.
Taqwa — derived from wiqaya, an Arabic word that means self-defense and avoidance — is a state of piety brought about by the fear of God. It is, quite literally, the purification of the inner world and the outer world by avoiding evil in all its forms.
For 30 days, Muslims are abstaining from food, drink and sex from dawn to sunset during the month of Ramadan, the Arabic word for the ninth month in the lunar year. Ramadan begins Aug. 1 in the United States this year.
By fasting, Muslims are reminded just how weak and dependent upon God humans are.
"Unlike God we need to eat and drink; we can't go on without nourishment for days or weeks," said Imam Muhammad Musri, president of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, which oversees nine mosques.
"We sometimes feel invulnerable and powerful and forget about God. We may become abusive of nature, thinking we made it all, or thinking we are taking care of ourselves and sustaining ourselves."
Fasting jolts humans back to reality, reminding them that they are merely tenants of the earth, helpless but for God continuing to send rain and sunshine and crops, the imam explained.
"We are just another race of creatures. We have to be compassionate to other human beings, compassionate to animals, compassionate to nature. We have to take care of this trust God gave us."
Muslims wake for sahur, a meal prepared before dawn, so that they will have enough strength to perform their regular duties. They break the fast for iftar, the sunset meal.
Fasting is not just a physical act, the imam said.
"Fasting goes beyond just abstinence from food and drink, it means fasting from anything unethical that we shouldn't be doing anyway — speaking profanity, lying, cheating or backbiting."
Stranger in a strange land
Fasting, never easy, is perhaps more difficult in a non-Muslim country, in a city where temperatures continue to reach the high eighties during the day.
"It is a challenge when you see all your friends and colleagues and classmates and neighbors, especially on hot days, drinking cold water right in front of you," said Musri.
It is helpful for everyone to be fasting at the same time, which is part of the reason why fasting, in Islam, is mandatory for one month, and not voluntary throughout the year.
"Fasting in the U.S. doesn't have the same flavor as in the Muslim world. There are traditions each country has developed over the years," said Musri. "Here it's like the rest of the year. The majority of people are not Muslim, so there's nothing special on the TV or radio."
Ramadan is a time when the body's basic needs are ignored temporarily so that one may transcend them to attain enlightenment.
For Aytekin Kale of Avalon Park, it is his third Ramadan in the United States. What he misses most about his native Istanbul is hearing the ezan, or call to prayer. Five times every day — at dawn, noon, afternoon, sunset and night — muezzins call Muslims to pray.
"I cannot feel the same way here without the adhan," he said.
"When I go outside, people are eating everywhere. Restaurants and cafes are usually closed this month. And here it is so hot, so I'm more thirsty and hungry, and the day is longer."
Kale, an electrical engineeer, added that almost every worker has permission to leave early to get home in time for iftar. The streets are crowded with throngs of people rushing home to break the fast.
Okan Agritmis, also of Avalon Park, is experiencing his second Ramadan on foreign soil. The UCF student, originally from Gaziantep, Turkey, misses the special Ramadan foods of his city, which is famous for its varities of baklava.
Men, who are paid by the town, walk through the streets sounding a gong to help people wake up for the dawn meal.
"They help you wake up to eat at night. I miss waking up for sahur with my family and eating together," he said. "Every night we had iftar at a different relative's house. People share with their neighbors the food they made."
Agritmis recalled iftar tents set up in busy, high-traffic areas of the city, where the mayor gives free food to whoever is still outside when sunset falls.
Muslims living abroad, naturally family-oriented, instead choose to feel Ramadan in their homes, or by visiting other families. Many choose to go to a mosque for iftar.
And yet, it is exactly here, in the affluent western world, where fasting during Ramadan is perhaps the most necessary.
"When a person fasts, they feel the many millions of people around the world who are fasting involuntarily because of famine and poverty. There are people so poor they may not have drinking water, and their children may go to sleep hungry," said Musri. "It reminds us, especially here in the West, to remember the blessing from God that we have all that we want or need. Ramadan teaches us to be generous and to practice charity."
In East Orlando, the mosque at 1089 N. Goldenrod Road hosts the sunset meal every evening throughout the month. Most who attend are students who don't have family in the United States, or working people with no time to prepare a meal. Others just would like to meet people in the community.
A family, business or a wealthy individual picks up the tab so that the meal is free for all guests. Despite the expense involved in feeding several hundred people, the mosques usually can find plenty of volunteers, the imam said.
"Whoever gives a fasting person food to break his fast, it is as if he has freed a person from slavery. It is forgiveness for his sins."

Why Muslims fast

-To remember to be grateful for divine gifts
-To give true, sincere and universal thankfulness to God
-To feel compassion for one's fellow man
-To free the soul of its imaginary independence, and remember that one is owned by God
-To understand fully one's powerlessness, want and deficiency
-To attain holiness during the time when the Qur'an was revealed
-Because heavenly rewards are multiplied a thousandfold
-To teach the body self-discipline
-To shatter the soul's imaginary authority, and allow it to worship



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