Celebrating Ramadan


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Allaa Hassanein used to have a competition with her brother when they were younger to see who could fast the longest during the Islamic holiday of Ramadan.

“I tried to do it myself,” the now-19-year-old Egyptian said about the curiosity she experienced after witnessing the adults around her fast for the holy month.

Ramadan, which is characterized by 30 days of fasting, will come to an end Aug. 29, and with classes already underway, Muslim students at the University of Iowa have been forced to balance school work and their religious obligations.

“It’s like a monthlong Christmas,” said Hassanein, her flowing white headscarf encircling her face. “It brings holiday cheeriness. The atmosphere is just happy.”

UI junior Reema Ajram, 21, said Muslims’ schedules change during the month.

A typical day requires waking up early enough to enjoy a meal before any sunlight streams across the sky, five prayers at designated times, and class in between.

The routine all leads up to a nightly feast, breaking the fast each day.

Each year, Ramadan begins 10 or 11 days earlier than the previous year, following a lunar calendar. With days becoming longer and the heat more intense, fasting becomes harder.

“In the summer, because the days are longer, we count down the minutes,” Hassanein said.

But does the 30-day fast create health concerns for Muslims?

M. Zuhdi Jasser, an internal medicine physician at a private practice in Phoenix, said the practice is “not meant to be something that hurts,” but occasionally, some will suffer such conditions as dehydration.

“Some will have some weight loss because they are eating more healthily,” said Jasser, the president of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy. “The gastrointestinal system can become more regulated because you are not eating.”

Ramadan can also be a humbling experience. Studies indicate that Muslims exhibit more generosity while fasting, said Ahmed Souaiaia, a UI associate professor of religious studies.

“Evidence shows that Muslims are more charitable,” he said. “More donations have been given to the famine in Somalia during Ramadan than any other month.”

Ajram agreed, saying fasting allows them to relate to the poor and sick, joining the ones who can’t afford food on a regular basis. However, practicing is more difficult in non-Islamic countries, Hassanein said.

“It’s a lot more fun in our countries,” Hassanein said, adding it’s more of a celebration in Egypt. “It’s not only about the fasting [there] … Here, you don’t get into the spirit.”

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