This week began Ramadan for Muslims across the world, but those in North Carolina were welcomed by a heat wave that went into triple-digit temperatures. During Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sundown for a month. That means no food or water, two things that people usually hold as sacred during the summer months.
But Aziza Shanab said no matter the temperature, Ramadan is a deeply spiritual time.
“It’s not a matter of, “Oh my gosh it’s so hot outside, we can’t handle this,’” she said. "Any type of extra added struggle is a good thing, we see it more as persevering.”
Ramadan follows the lunar calendar, so the dates change every year. This year, the month falls on some of the summer’s hottest and longest days. This Sunday, June 21, is the summer solstice- the longest day of the year. This means right now Muslims in North Carolina are fasting about sixteen and a half hours a day, beginning at sunrise around 4:00 a.m. and ending around 8:30 p.m.
Muslims can break their fast under certain conditions. For example, right now Shanab is breastfeeding her 10-month-old child and she said if she feels like the heat is causing serious harm to her, she can break the fast. But it is a decision not taken lightly.
“Fasting is something that is extremely personal between you and God. So when it comes to breaking the fast, some people feel like they can’t handle it because it is such a hard time.”
Fiaz Fareed is in charge of Outreach at the Islamic Association of Raleigh. He said if people are feeling dizzy after consistently being out in the sun too long, they can talk to their imam, an Islamic leader, about breaking the fast.
“It is plainly stated in the Quran that God does not want to put a soul through more than it can bear. We go to the extent that we do and feel rewarded by the activity,” he said.
Fareed said working outside requires an adjustment, and Muslims choose to fast despite their circumstance. He knows Muslim football players who hydrate all night before going out to practice and encourages his mosque’s security guard to take breaks in the shade.
Abraham Choukri does landscaping in the Triangle and said this time of year is not only the hottest, but the busiest.
“Sure, it’s hot outside but I am thirsty even if I am fasting or not. I have been doing this for ten years so I am used to it by now,” Choukri said.
Fareed said these first couple of days are the hardest for the younger people who do not have as much experience fasting. He makes sure to tell them that they can always break the fast and make up the time later. But young or old, Fareed said Muslims know what is at stake with each day.
“People may think, ‘Oh man, Muslims are supposed to pray five times a day, why is God so demanding?’ It is the other way around. We are in need and we want to show gratitude,” Fareed said.
“This is how we begin to understand. When we drink drop of water after fasting, we know there are millions of people in the world who have not had that clear of water. The real teaching is we become thankful for what we have. Everything in life is limited and we are supposed to share it.”