The Muslim holy month of Ramadan will end Sunday or Monday, but at the beginning, Imad Shamsuddin, 21, said he bought a lot of junk food to snack on at night.
He barely opens half of it, though, he found, saying his appetite is smaller because of the (Most Muslims eat a meal before sunrise, then break the fast with an evening meal at sunset, taking no food or drink during daylight hours.)
Shamsuddin, of Skokie, and others at Morton Grove's Muslim Community Center for prayers Wednesday said fasting is challenging, but taking the focus off of food and things of this world helps them feel closer to God.
"It's about taqwa--God consciouness," said Shamsuddin, a Loyola University student who graduated from Niles North High School.
"It's about being aware God's always watching you. It allows you to remember that if God is watching you eating and drinking, he's also watching when you do sin."
Difficult to go without food, but worth it
Because of the lunar calendar, the month of Ramadan falls at different times of the year in different years. It's easier when it falls during the school year, Shamsuddin said, because then he has school to distract him--not to mention the fact that the hours of daylight are shorter in winter.
Fasting is challenging, and it takes mental strength to do it, he added.
Rizwan Kadir, immediate past chair of the MCC Full-Time School and a Glenview resident, said people who want to fast have to have their mind set on it.
"It's tough, but it's easier if there are people around you doing it too," he said.
Many women face the prospect of being hungry and tired in the afternoon just at the time they have to prepare the evening meal.
"To me, I don't feel it," said Sadia Alms of Skokie, who has four children college-age and older. She prepares the evening meal after returning home from her full-time job housekeeping at the MCC, often inviting friends for dinner.
Waking before dawn
Shamsuddin's family follows a typical routine. His mother wakes at about 2:45 a.m. during Ramadan to prepare a pre-dawn meal. Shamsuddin gets up at about 3:15, washes up, and they sit down to eat at 3:30.
Before eating, Muslims have to state their intention to fast that day, though it's not necessary to do it out loud, he said.
"My parents eat a full meal," Shamsuddin observed, "though if I had a big dinner the night before, I'll just have one or two eggs and bread, with juice and two or three cups of water."
During the day, he tries to conserve energy by staying in air-conditioned places and taking naps.
"You do less activity," he said. "I've seen some kids playing basketball, but I don't know how they do it."
When 6:30 p.m. rolls around, Shamsuddin can hear his mom in the kitchen, preparing the evening meal. When sunset arrives--it's about 7:55 p.m now, though it was 8:15 at the start of Ramadan--they break the fast with two or three dates and sip water before starting the meal.
Many Muslims attend Ramadan prayers at the Morton Grove mosque from 10 to about 11:30 p.m.
Getting closer to God
Shamsuddin describes the month of fasting as a spiritual time.
He cited a tradition that says the devil is locked up during the month, so any sin a person commits is their own fault.
"It goes back to God consciousness. It's making people more aware," he said.
Asked to explain the reasons for pursuing the arduous challenge, he responded, "It's just something we have to do. It's easier than people think it is. You think your're just starving yourself--but it's more about building a relationship with God."