Queens Muslims are ardently fasting from dawn to dusk despite an up to 16-hour long wait to eat and drink. Even for the healthy practitioners, the summer days of August can be long and grueling.
“I did feel it the first day, but it’s about perseverance,” said Meher Mohsin, 19, a student at Queens College from Flushing. “It helps me realize how good I have it and I am not the one facing famine in Africa or facing a natural disaster so it outweighs the complaints as I really don’t have any reason to.”
Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, falls 11 days earlier each year because it follows the lunar calendar which is shorter than the calendar typically followed. This year the holy month began on August 1 and will last 29 to 30 days depending on the lunar cycle, and will not always fall during the summer months.
During the holy month, Muslims refrain from eating and drinking during daylight hours as a means to purify the soul, redirect focus on piety, practice humility and kindness, give charity and exercise restraint.
The restraint is not limited to changing dietary patterns, but the fast also involves abstaining from gossiping or lying and participating in impure thoughts or actions. Sex is also prohibited during the hours of the fast to withstand temptation. The purpose of fasting is to pay attention to spirituality and devote mind, body, heart and soul to the will of God, Allah.
“God gives rewards for everything and by doing this and engaging in good deeds, not only this year but through the whole year, gives us the opportunity to become closer to God,” said Imam Fadhel Al-Sahlani, of Imam Al-Khoei Islamic Center in Jamaica. “But a person shouldn’t continue if they believe that fasting will hurt them or their body. They can make up the fast during the year.”
Prolonged fasting, especially during the hot summer, however, can cause nutrition deficiency depending on preparation before the fasting time according to Nicolette Pace, Registered Dietician and Nutritionist in Bayside, who has had Muslim patients and is familiar with the tradition.
During Ramadan, Pace recommended basic dietary practices that can reduce common symptoms of fasting such as dehydration, headaches, discomfort, increased gastric and uric acidity and low blood glucose levels.
“A couple of servings of grains, rich fiber foods, starch and a couple of servings of fruit should be helpful to last the day,” Pace said.
To increase the feeling of fullness during the day, Pace suggested eating a light meal during Saher (predawn meal) that can include a vegetable soup with pasta and grains, sweet crackers, mixed grain cereal with milk and orange juice.
For Iftar, the fast-breaking meal, Pace suggested that it include fruit, meats (excluding pork) legumes or lentils and cooked brown rice or whole wheat bread.
The meal should also include dairy and a mixed vegetable salad. These dietary choices help the body restore glucose and relieve gastric and uric acid.
Enhancing spirituality is not limited to the long hours of fasting during August, but “every day we should try not to commit sin and try to be closer to God…and [be united within each other religion doesn't matter to help [those in need],” Imam Al-Sahlani said.