Fasting for 17 hours a day is no walk in the park. But it’s that much harder when the person sitting next to you is eating a cheeseburger, or a succulent slice of pizza.
Or, for Mohammad Ismail, there’s that tempting looking Starbucks on the way to work.
Born in Pakistan, this is the second time that Ismail will celebrate Ramadan in Seattle. He says on the one hand it’s slightly easier celebrating it here, since it’s much cooler, but it can also be difficult when the majority of people aren’t fasting.
“In summer, the temperature [in Pakistan] goes up to 115 degrees,” said Ismail in an email interview. “You feel like your organs are shutting down. That time you get to know the real worth of water. But there is sunny side, as everyone is fasting so you keep telling yourself, ‘I’m gonna be OKAY.’”
Ramadan begins this Friday, and is meant to be a time that Muslims abstain from food during the day, read through the Quran and take part in charitable deeds. The annual holiday takes place during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar to signify when the Prophet Muhammad first unveiled the Quran.
The specific date of the holiday changes every year because it is based on the Islamic calendar, which is lunar. That means the month of Ramadan gradually creeps backward through the Gregorian calendar each year. This year marks the closest it’s been to the Summer solstice in decades. Long Northwest summer days will make for a tough regimen of fasting for observant Muslims like Ismail.
And unlike in the Muslim world, here in Seattle, work and school does not stop for those 30-days.
For Ismail, he has a full time job that involves a three-hour roundtrip commute each day. He said that during the month of Ramadan, he sets his alarm clock for 3 a.m. so that he can eat before the sun comes up. And then once the sun goes down around 9 p.m., he breaks the fast first by eating pitted dates.
Tarek Dawoud, originally from Cairo, Egypt, says the food you break your fast with has to do with your particular culture.
“We usually have a whole feast set up, with salad and soup” said Dawoud, who moved to Seattle in 2001 and works for Microsoft. “People will start eating the food and then pause for prayer and then go back and eat.”
He said one of the biggest differences between celebrating Ramadan in the US, as opposed to in his native country, is not only how few people take part in it, but how few people even know when it happens or what it is.
Dawoud explained that back in Cairo, no matter what religion his boss was, they were always well aware of the holiday and the fast, so they would often allow workers to leave early.
Although this is not normally the case in the US, his job at Microsoft allows for some schedule flexibility no matter if it’s Ramadan or not. So Dawoud simply adjusts his work schedule so that he can sleep each day of the holiday from dawn until noon.
This makes working during the fast a little easier. He says it’s normally only the first couple days that not eating or drinking will take a significant toll on his body.
“It takes a couple days for my body to adjust to the lack of water, so by 7:30 or 8 my head is pounding.”
Ismail also says he suffers more at the beginning of the holiday.
“But I’m planning on fasting as my experience has been wonderful with Ramadan,” he said “I’ve experienced both spiritual and medical benefits.”
For those looking to learn more about Ramadan first hand, the Muslim Association of Puget Sound (MAPS) will be hosting an interfaith iftar (the evening meal during Ramadan) on August 1st. Guests from other faith denominations and the general public are welcome and attendance is free, but registration is required.
There are also iftars at the the Abu Bakr mosque in Tukwila, the Islamic House in the U-District, the Islamic Center of Eastside in Bellevue and the Ithna-ashri Muslim Association of the Northwest in Kirkland.