Religion News: June 2018

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Zahir Mahmoud

Reflection & New Focus During Ramadan

It’s not easy, going without food or water all day, especially in the summer, but that’s what the world’s Muslims are asked to do during Ramadan. The ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which celebrates the sacred texts of Islam, began May 14 and will end June 15. “It’s much easier in the winter, when days are short and you don’t get so thirsty,” said Zahir Mahmoud. Mahmoud is the director of the Waynesboro Library. Regardless of the difficulty, it’s something he’s always looked forward to, he said.

Mahmoud fled the Communist occupation of Afghanistan with his wife, a small child, and an infant, as the new regime targeted perceived enemies for prison and death. After a harrowing year of travel and by way of camps in Pakistan, Turkey and Italy, the family arrived as refugees and Mahmoud later pursued his education in Rhode Island. As a child in Kabul, he said, he remembers his mother rising way before dawn to fix eggs and meat for the family meal, served well before sunrise. “She would concentrate on protein, to help us get through the long day.” Since grilled and roast meats are hard on sleepy stomachs, she’d make a kind of soup, he said. After nightfall, the family would break its fast with dates and water, then offer evening prayers, followed by a substantial feast. Those near a mosque might share a communal meal. There were always a lot of sweets, but Mahmoud learned to avoid them. “I think sweets make you thirstier,” he said. Ramadan ends with a special feast at the end of the last day.

Children, people with chronic disease, nursing and pregnant women and elders are encouraged not to fast, or to observe a modified fast. Mahmoud said he’d always found the fatigue associated with rising before dawn more troublesome than the hunger, especially when dawn is before 6 a.m. He’d arrange his hours to allow lunch at home and a short rest.

It disrupts the daily routine, but that’s the whole point, Mahmoud said. “We’re so busy all the time that we lose sight of what’s really important.” Fasting is just one of the rituals of Ramadan. Muslims also try to reflect on their lives, re-focus on kindness and charity, and re-connect with their family members and friends. “I think having a time of reflection like this makes me a better person,” he said.  

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