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October 24, 2005

A month of sacrifice and self-control

By Edrees Kakar

Ramadan is a month of sacrifice, prayer and clean living and I and my fellow Muslims look forward to it each year.

For us, it is a holy month, a precious, enjoyable and happy time that brings us closer to God.

Ramadan comes in the ninth month of the lunar Islamic calendar, which means it falls at a different time each year. This year, Ramadan began Oct. 5 and ends Nov. 3 with a big feast day called Eid al-Fitr.

During Ramadan, Muslims all over the world fast during daylight hours.

At about age 12 or 13, we are expected to observe the fast, but younger children do fast some days of the month on their own. They like to see if they can do it.

The most important reason we fast is to bring equality between rich and poor and to foster empathy for the poor, who are too often living in hunger or with food shortages.

Most people are friendlier and more generous with the poor during Ramadan, and those of us in Muslim countries take this time of year very seriously. We believe that we must be very kind and not get angry during Ramadan and if we do, that were breaking the rules of Islam.

When we are fasting, we wake two or three hours before dawn and eat delicious foods for energy, with water or tea so were not thirsty all day.

At dawn, there are the Fajr, or morning prayers and fasting begins. During the fast, all food and drink even water are prohibited. Smoking is also not allowed.

We can cope with being hungry during the fast. Its more of a problem when people get thirsty, but almost everyone can easily complete the fast. Most people never complain about hunger or thirst.

People who are ill, though, do not have to fast. They can complete the fasting days when they are well again.

To keep our minds off the fast, my friends and I start a soccer game a couple hours before the fast ends. We find that we can run faster during Ramadan because our stomachs are empty and we are lighter. Somehow, playing gives us energy.

We play until about 10 minutes before we can eat and then everyone goes to their own home.

Fasting isnt limited to physical nourishment, however. The idea isnt only to stop eating and drinking, but also to keep your hands, eyes and thoughts from any kind of illegal or sinful activity.

Were expected to control ourselves and not insult anyone and behave in a very kind, generous and friendly manner with younger children as well as elders. To our parents, were to adopt a special attitude of kindness.

Even crossing international borders is different during Ramadan, according to Saeed Bashir, 16, of Kabul , Afghanistan .

Bashir, who recently crossed into Pakistan for a visit, said there can be a kind reaction from anyone in any place during Ramadan, even when crossing the border.

In addition, Bashir said the poor benefit from charity given during Ramadan and everyone gets a chance to taste a variety of dishes during this holy month.

Ramadan is special to us because we believe that it was during this month in the year 610 that the Archangel Gabriel started revealing the Koran to the prophet Muhammad.

Each night after breaking the fast, we go to the mosque for prayers called Tarawih, where parts of the Koran are recited, and when it is over, we have a ceremony called Khatim and some special desserts. By the end of the month, weve read the entire Koran.

The first eating to break the fast is called Iftar, which we do at dusk, at the time of our  Mughrib prayers.

The most famous and valuable fruit for breaking the fast is dates, because it is believed that Muhammad ate them, too. But eating dates isnt mandatory. We just eat a little bit of something and have a drink, then we pray for a few minutes before starting the main course that has a delightful variety of dishes.

In my native Afghanistan, we enjoy traditional dishes as well as jams, sauces, different milk products, yogurts, different snack fries, and special South Asian sweets called jilabees.

Afghan-style rice, called kabuli palow, is a main course almost every night for nearly every family. Its made with lots of oil, slices of carrots and raisins.

Chicken and fried potatoes are also popular.

Eighteen-year-old Nazeer Ahmed from Peshawar, Pakistan said fasting is the occasion of joy and love among the people. In the family, Ahmed said, everyone takes part in preparing or helping to bring something tasty to eat to make the meal wonderful.

For me and hundreds of millions of my fellow Muslims around the world, Ramadan is a month with blessings, prayers, fasting and charity.

After the 30 days of Ramadan, we have Eid al-Fitr, which is several day of celebration and happiness, with new clothes and feasting day and night.


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