Local Muslims began observing the holy month of Ramadan on Thursday through fasting, charity and prayer.
Mongy El-Quesny, imam and director of the Northwest Indiana Islamic Center in Merrillville, was unavailable to talk about the significance of the observance, but Muzaffar Khan, of Crown Point, said for his family Ramadan means pleasing God and learning empathy for those less fortunate.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic year and lasts 29 to 30 days, depending on the lunar calendar.
“If you are withholding food you will realize the importance of being hungry, the importance of being thirsty,” Khan said. “It is a month of tolerance and patience, no lying — no sin at all.”
Ghassan Mohammed, owner of Merrillville’s Aladdin Pita, agrees the importance of Ramadan is worshiping God and “by being deprived of food to feel for the poor who actually don’t have food for most of their lifetime.
“When the sun goes down we break our fast and thank God for giving us food and water,” he said. “Observing Ramadan is about learning patience.”
Khan, who moved from Pakistan to the United States 12 years ago, said his son will wake the family up at 4 a.m. to start breakfast and they will eat together. They will fast and pray until after the sun has fully set.
He said fasting means no food, drinks, medicine or smoking. It is also a time to abstain from negative thoughts, words and actions.
A person who gets ill and must break the fast, Khan said, can make the days up by fasting extra time after Ramadan ends.
Those who can’t fast can perform works of charity to help someone less fortunate, Gary resident Saba Mohammed said.
“It is a beautiful time of the year — a beautiful month,” said Saba Mohammed, whose parents came from Syria to Gary.
Khan said many Muslims attempt to read the entire Koran, one or two chapters daily, during the holy month.
Ramadan’s daylight fasts apply to all adults except pregnant or nursing mothers, the elderly and those with chronic medical conditions. Many children start with half-day fasts.
Mohammed said Ramadan marks one of the busiest months for his restaurant.
Khan said Eid ul-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan. It is a festival of unity and celebration with great feasts involving family and friends. Khan said it is the biggest Muslim celebration of the year.