COLUMBIA — When Columbia Muslims woke up about 4 a.m. Monday to eat an early breakfast, they knew there would be no food or drink for them until sundown 16 hours later.
Monday marked the first day of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting. For the next 28 days, Muslims will go without eating from dawn to sunset. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and fasting during the month is one of the five main religious obligations for all Muslims.
Although adults are obligated to fast during the month, Ramadan also generates a lot of excitement in children — many of whom want to fast like their parents.
It is 11-year-old Anushah Choudhry’s second time fasting. Her mother, Aneela Khan, said she and her husband let their daughter fast last year just to make her understand what it is and how it feels.
“In the beginning, it was hard for us to see if she could do it, and we were not too keen on it,” Khan said. “But this year, she said she wanted to fast for all 30 days.”
Khan said she would allow her daughter to fast on weekends. But most importantly, she wants her children — she has two daughters — to learn values such as patience, charity to others and helping people in need during Ramadan.
Shafi Lodhi delivered a similar message from the pulpit at the Islamic Center of Central Missouri before Friday’s congregational prayers. He asked worshipers to use Ramadan as a means to turn their lives toward charity and goodwill. They could take up a good habit such as volunteering at the local food bank during the month and continue it even after Ramadan is over, he said.
Another parent, Sofia Jawaid, said that although she will let her children fast if they want to, it's important that kids are not forced by their parents to fast.
This year, Jawaid's 10-year-old daughter, Sidra Jawaid, is fasting for her second time. Sofia Jawaid said she wants her daughter to realize that Ramadan teaches Muslims to control their tempers, be nice to others and stay away from any bad habits.
Sidra said Monday that she was doing fine on the first day of her fast and was trying to avoid thinking about food by reading story books.
Sometimes parents have to innovate to tame the excitement of children who are too young to fast.
Jawaid said her younger daughter, Soha Jawaid, 5, became angry when told she could not fast. To make her feel included, Jawaid woke Soha up to eat "sehri" — the morning meal at sunrise — but then fed her lunch at midday.
Ramadan also holds significance in Islamic history because the Quran, the Muslim holy book, is believed to have been revealed during this month. The month is marked by special night prayers, called "taraweeh," in which Muslims recite a portion of the Quran. Ramadan ends with the festival of Eid al-Fitr.
Before that festival on Aug. 30, however, there's a full month of religious rigor.
Khan said the religious experience is also a learning process for the children because sometimes they are not aware of the subtleties of fasting. Sometimes they drink water accidentally or chew gum thinking it is allowed, she said.
Sometimes they think the rules are too rigid. Khan said that when she entered the kitchen Monday morning to make breakfast for her 6-year-old daughter, who is too young to be fasting, her daughter was amazed.
“Mama, I thought you are not allowed to enter the kitchen,” her daughter said, and Khan explained that being in the kitchen and cooking is fine as long as the person observing the fast doesn’t eat anything.
The Islamic Center will hold an "iftar" — the evening meal to break the fast — for Muslim MU students and singles in the community every day during the month. The meal is usually prepared by volunteers at the center.
For Fridays, the center requests that people bring their own food and share it with others. Iftar dinners for the whole community, including non-Muslims, will be held after sunset on Saturdays and Sundays at the center.