Ramadan fasting a challenge during long summer days

Ramadan observers gather at the Islamic Center of

Ramadan observers gather at the Islamic Center of Long Island mosque to break fast on July 1, 2014. (Credit: Jeremy Bales)

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Ramadan is especially challenging this year for Islamic followers, who must go without food or drink for 17 hours daily because the holy month falls during the longest days of summer.

The religious observance, during which the faithful fast from before sunrise until after sunset, started last Saturday or Sunday night -- a week after June 21, the longest day of the year. The dates are based on the lunar calendar, so which day it started depends upon the believer's interpretation of when the new moon appeared.

This year, observant Muslims are getting to bed close to midnight, after the last prayer of the day, and rising at about 3 a.m. so they can have a light breakfast before dawn and say the first prayer of the new day.

From then until about 8:30 p.m., they cannot eat or even drink water. After sunset, they break the fast with a festive meal, often in a mosque or at home, or sometimes with friends.

Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam. It commemorates the time when the prophet Muhammad received the Quran, the holiest book in Islam, from the angel Gabriel in the year 610. The holy month is observed by many of the world's estimated 1.6 billion Muslims, including about 75,000 on Long Island, and ends July 28 or 29, depending on when the believer began.

It is a time of self-reflection, charity and making amends with those one has offended. During the last prayer of the night, starting about 10 p.m., Muslims spend about an hour and 45 minutes reading the Quran -- one chapter each night.

Muslims stress it is a joyful and spiritually fulfilling month, and in interviews several spoke of a variety of strategies that help them cope with the fasting regimen.

Azhar Bhatt, 25, a computer programmer from Westbury, said he makes sure he downs 10 to 12 glasses of water after sunset each night to be sure he is sufficiently hydrated for the day ahead. He deals with the absence of food and liquid refreshment during the day, he said, by reminding himself that many people in poor nations live with that reality all the time, and don't have a feast to enjoy after sunset.

Habeeb Ahmed, a leader of the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury, one of Long Island's largest mosques, said he avoids the cafeteria and the sight of people eating during lunch, instead spending that time in the lobby of the hospital where he works.

He said he sleeps when he can -- perhaps for an hour after the first morning prayer, and before he goes to work for an early shift. He tries to grab another nap when he gets out of work at 2 or 3 p.m.

"It's very difficult to get up at 3:30, especially after going to bed after midnight," he said. But "when you are kind of enjoying it [Ramadan], you don't feel you have missed your sleep."

Aziz Chaudry, a family physician in Port Jefferson, said, "The days are long and warm, but it's really not that hard when you have your mind prepared for it. What carries you through is the spirituality involved in the fasting."

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