Muslim families fast, then feast for Ramadan

Friday, July 12, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:41 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 13, 2013
After the evening prayer at about 8:40 p.m., the Gumati and Abdul families, who have known each other for years, broke the first fast of Ramadan with dates and milk at the Gumatis' house in Columbia. Ramadan is a month-long Muslim holiday within which participants fast from sunrise until sunset.

COLUMBIA — Mohamed Gumati leaned back in a settee on his patio, with his daughter, Camilla Gumati, sitting beside him, awaiting the arrival of family friend Assem Abdul and his family on Wednesday evening.

Mohamed's wife of 30 years, Elizabeth Gumati, was in the kitchen preparing for iftar, the breaking of the fast. 

After the evening prayer at about 8:40 p.m., the Gumati and Abdul families, who have known each other for years, broke the first fast of Ramadan with dates and milk. 

Days of fasting

During Ramadan, which began this year on Wednesday, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset for a month.

"The Quran says we have to fast for a month, whether rich or poor," Mohamed said. "It is the same for everyone. If you are sick or traveling, you don't have to fast, but you make up the days later."

Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam.

"You do it for God," Assem said. "Despite fasting, you don't go to heaven unless you have God's mercy. It is everything."

Camilla, 25, said she fasts "to show appreciation for what I have and others don't. And this is my reason, specifically. Everyone differs on their number one reason for fasting."

Despite not being a very religious family, the Gumati children have been participating in the Ramadan fast from a young age.

Camilla was in fourth or fifth grade, she said. Her brother, Salim, 17, also started fasting when he reached that age.

Although children who have not reached puberty are not required to fast, the Gumati and Abdul children did it anyway. Elizabeth said her children fasted to feel grown up.

Assem's 9-year-old daughter, Ayah, was also fasting — because she gets money from her father, she said.

"It's just a reward," Assem said. "This is how I trained my daughters: First day fast for five hours, second day, six hours and so on. This way, they learn to be patient."

Hannah, 15, and Meena, 13, Assem's older daughters, are in Jordan with his family for Ramadan.

"It is their first time there during this month, and they are loving it," he said.

For the first iftar of the month, the two families started their meal with Libyan "sharba," a traditional soup with lamb and mint. The soup was followed by a salad, fruits, tea and coffee. For dessert, "mahalabiya," a kind of rice pudding garnished with almonds, was served.

"In the evening we eat it all, and then, in the morning, we dream about it," Assem said of the mahalabiya.

Despite marrying into a Muslim household, Elizabeth, a Catholic from Venezuela, has never fasted for Ramadan. 

"The first few days don't bother me," Mohamed said of fasting. "It gets to me during the last days. I start getting weaker during the end of Ramadan."

After iftar

The two families gathered on the patio, talking and drinking either tea or coffee. Conversation revolved around Hannah and Meena's trip to Jordan and the differences between celebrating Ramadan in the U.S. and the Middle East.

Mohamed said Ramadan has a more social feel in Libya, an atmosphere he had to create for himself and his family in Columbia.

"In the Middle East, in Libya, everything comes alive in the night," he said. "Daytime shifts to nighttime. Everybody is out shopping, going to the cinema, socializing. I miss that."

Smoking a cigar and drinking home-brewed green tea with mint, Mohamed recounted a joke he and his friends played on a stall owner in Benghazi, Libya, where he grew up.

"We drove people crazy, especially the old people," he said. "One guy had a small stall where he sold fruits and vegetables. By 4 in the evening, he's done, tired because of fasting. So one of us would go to his stall, point to a box of apples and ask how much for the tomatoes. He would tell us they were apples, not tomatoes.

"Two minutes later, someone else would go and the same thing would happen. The stall owner would get mad, especially because he was fasting. He took the box and smashed the apples saying, 'These are tomatoes, not apples.'" 

Despite the fun people create for themselves, Ramadan is a time for rituals and forgiveness.

For the Gumati family, iftar is a "time for reflection and gratitude for all that we have around us and what we are blessed with," Camilla said. "It reminds us of who we are blessed with and the people in our lives."

Supervising editors are Elizabeth Brixey and Katie Moritz.

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