Thirty-one-year-old Asad Abdurrahman is using this month to build his inner power.
Everyday, he studies his Holy Qu'ran, prays at least five times and refrains from eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset.
“The purpose is to learn self-restraint,” he said. “It's more that just refraining from food. It's refraining from the negativity and the lies and to concentrate on learning and getting closer to God. This is the time to meditate on Allah's word.”
Abdurrahman joins over 1.25 billion Muslims worldwide and 6 million American Muslims that are fasting and praying in observance of Ramadan.
During this most spiritual time of the year, Muslims fast daily and abstain from drinking water and sexual relations from dawn to sunset. For Muslims, Ramadan is a time for symbolic, spiritual and physical renewal. The daily fast purifies and cleanses the body thus lowering cholesterol and fat levels in the body.
Muslims fast to develop one's character of Taqwa or “greater God-consciousness.” Taqwa literally means “being on guard” – being constantly aware of God (Allah) and what is right and wrong. Through this awareness, Muslims build discipline, self-respect, responsibility and pride in achievement.
Ramadan begins each year on Nov. 27, the ninth month of the lunar calendar with the sighting of the new moon (lunar crescent). Ramadan celebrates of the month when the Holy Qur'an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.
Ramadan is one of the of the five pillars of Islam: self-purification through fasting, faith and belief in the oneness of God, praying five times a day, concern for and almsgiving to the needy and making a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca.
The fast applies to all Muslims who have reached the age of puberty. The elderly, the sick, anyone traveling and women who are pregnant or in their menses are exempt from fasting. Those exempted must make up their missed days of fasting, except the chronically ill or weak. Instead, they perform acts of kindness and feed the poor.
A 35-year-old native Moroccan who calls himself Muhammad, said he enjoys the month because it is a health benefit in addition to a way to empathize with the needy.
“I enjoy it,” he said. “I think it's great for self-discipline and for the digestive system.
“When you fast, you are in the same situation as the poor and the hungry so you can understand what it's like.”
During Ramadan, Muslims are encouraged to commit acts of devotion and charity including recitation of the Holy Qu'ran to bring one closer to God. Muslims are strict on their character, consciously limiting their behavior in word and deed to the best moral conduct.
It is also customary that Muslim children around the age of 7 fast for half a day or a weekend. The mosques, families and Islamic schools usually commend youngsters that have completed their first Ramadan.
Muslims pray together and break fast at sunset, Maghrib (Salat), and offer several prayers later in the evening, or Taraweeh, at mosques. They are encouraged to eat a small morning meal before dawn (suhur) and break fast immediately at sunset, normally with dates and water. After sunset prayers, a meal (iftar), is traditionally shared with the company of friends and/or family. Many Muslims visit one another to break fast together at their homes and at Islamic places of worship.
The most critical time of month for Muslims is during the last 10 nights, one of them the night when the Qu'ran was first revealed to the Prophet called laylat al qadr – “the night of power and majesty.” During this period, many mosques stay open for all night prayer and worship.
Muslims must also give a mandatory financial charity called Zakat al Fitr (alms-giving charity) at the end of the month. This is to purify indecent acts and provide aid for the needy.
Ramadan ends with ‘Id al Fitr, or a celebration of completing the fast. ‘Id al Fitr begins with a morning prayer and then a festival. Muslims of all kinds, cultures and backgrounds usually gather in a public place and manifest an atmosphere of love and camaraderie.
Abdurrahman, now a nurse, can remember when he lived less than righteously. Growing up in Los Angeles, he was in gangs, in and out of jail, did drugs and routinely drank alcohol and smoked cigarettes. He credits Islam for his life's turn around in general, but Ramadan specifically, for instilling discipline in him to kick his bad habits.
“It's a fire that cleans the soul,” he said. “Ramadan taught me about restraint from poison.
“Islam is what Allah used to reform me. I used to put people in the hospital, now I work in one.”