JOPLIN, Mo. —
When Muslims from the Islamic Center of Joplin met at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church for an interfaith dinner with church members, members of the United Hebrew Congregation and members from other area churches, they celebrated iftar -- a breaking of the fasting required by Ramadan.
Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar -- which is lunar -- drifts through the seasons. This year it began at sunset July 19.
During the month, all able-bodied Muslims after reaching puberty are required to abstain from food, drink (including water) and sexual relations from dawn to sunset.
“You are to restrain yourself from any pleasures,” Islamic scholar Mohamed Hilali said. He is director of the Islamic Center in Wichita, Kan., after working nine years at the Islamic School in Kansas City, Mo.
“The time should be spent on purifying your soul and spending more time reading and studying the Quran,” he said.
There are a few exceptions to fasting, but 16 hours of daytime heat is not one of them. Remember, the religion was born in the desert nation of Saudi Arabia.
With no end to the 100-plus-degree weather in sight, Samuel Shareef, of Kansas City, who owns a courier business and is in and out of the heat constantly, planned to fast.
“It will be very difficult,” but he intended to drink as much water as he can during his meal before dawn and then after sunset.
“Last year there were a couple of 100-degree days, and I pulled over and took a short nap,” the 62-year-old said. “It is extremely tough, but the younger guys may have an easier time. If you break the fast, it is because your mind tells you that you can’t (succeed).”
The discomforts of hunger and thirst are to be expected.
Hilali said fasting is in obedience to God and done out of love for God. The intention, however, is not to hurt oneself.
“If you go as far as you can and can’t take it anymore, then stop it,” he said. “You may go to work and intend to fast, but if you feel harm is imminent, you stop fasting. Then you make it up later. You know how much you can tolerate.”
Although a devout Muslim, Ruby Sous hasn’t fasted during Ramadan in two years.
Though a grave sin not to fast, allowances are made, and the Kansas City woman has fallen under two categories of exemptions: Two years ago she was pregnant, and last year she was nursing.
While exceptions to one of the five pillars of Islam do exist, that does not mean nothing is expected of the devout.
To compensate, Sous sent meals to a shelter for the homeless for each of her non-fasting days. She also made up the time later in the year when the days were shorter.
Admad Gheshah of Raytown, Mo., isn’t fasting because he went on dialysis in 2002 and received a kidney in 2005. He is required to drink a certain amount of water and has to eat something to take some of his medication.
Hilali said sickness is not a personal judgment. One has to go to an Islamic scholar or doctor, an expert, to ask for an exemption to fasting.
In 2006, Gheshah managed to fast because the period fell during the fall when the days were shorter. In lieu of fasting this year, he will donate to a shelter an amount for a month’s worth of food.
He still doesn’t think he has it as bad as two brothers, one who has a doughnut shop, the other, a restaurant. “So any time of the year, they have a challenge.”
Among other exceptions to fasting during Ramadan, according to Hilali, are:
- The feeble elderly, but they must offer at least one needy person an average full meal or its value per day.
- People that a doctor deems to be too ill. They are expected to fast once their conditions improve. For the chronically ill, they are to feed the poor.
- Those traveling for business, involved in warfare or an industry vital to the nation. They are to make up for the days missed.
- Women who are menstruating, who also can make up the days later.
- Prisoners doing hard labor. They don’t have to make it up.
- The mentally ill and others unaccountable for their actions.
Hilali said fasting has important virtues, and exemptions are not considered lightly.
“The greatest virtue is to obtain piety with and consciousness of God,” he said.