October 21, 2006


Rhythms of Ramadan (NICHOLAS KEUNG, 10/21/06, Toronto Star)

Asif Khan, 33, an investment advisor with Nesbitt Burns, and Tanya, 31, an elementary school teacher, both consider themselves "morning people."

But come Ramadan, they push themselves out of bed earlier than usual. Facing a dawn-to-dusk fast, they'll need to consume enough liquid and food before the sun rises to carry their bodies through the day. And they can't afford not to be time-conscious.

According to the sahar and iftar timetable they follow carefully, on this day, daybreak will be at 6:11 a.m. and sunset at 6:41 p.m., meaning for Asif no food or drink between those hours.

Tanya is three months pregnant, so this year — like those sick or travelling, menstruating women and children too young to fast — she is exempted from strict adherence to the fast.

But that doesn't mean she isn't observing the month in other meaningful ways. And she will fast at another time to make up for it, she adds, Ramadan fasting being one of the five "pillars" of Islam, along with belief in one God, regular prayers, help to the needy and a pilgrimage to Mecca.

5:45 a.m. It's Friday, the Islamic holy day, and in her simply decorated, semi-detached home in the quiet suburb of Maple, Tanya is already up and putting together some omelettes with toast, fruit salad and the strong espresso typical of her parents' native Lebanon.

"You eat what you normally eat and not gorge yourself," she says of this predawn meal.

One reason for the fast is to encourage empathy and charity toward those who go hungry because of poverty. During Ramadan, says Tanya, "You feel what the hungry feel. Regardless of one's social and economic status, hunger feels the same for everybody. And you'd be amazed how little we need to survive."

While it takes some adjustment at first, Asif says a Ramadan in fall or winter is much easier than one in mid-summer, when the fast can stretch from as early as 5 a.m. until 9:30 p.m. (Because the Islamic calendar follows moon cycles, the month of Ramadan moves around the seasons.)

"Physically, it does strain your body," says Asif, whose parents came from Pakistan. "But that's when spirituality comes in. That's what gets you through over the 30 days."

The close-knit community of which the family is part plays a big role during this period of spiritual rejuvenation.

Posted by Orrin Judd at October 21, 2006 10:54 AM
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