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During Ramadan, my family wakes up before sunrise.
While my mom prepares the food, my siblings and I sneak five more minutes of sleep. Afterwards, we all eat together, which is very rare in my family. Then comes time for Fajr prayer, which is also before sunrise.
I am very fortunate that Ramadan occurs during the short days of winter rather than the summer. When it is finally time for Iftar (breaking fast after sunset), once again we all eat together.
For traditional Pakistani families, oily foods are usually served. As a result, I always end up gaining weight in Ramadan rather than losing it.
In addition to Iftar, Ramadan brings many Muslim families together religiously as well as socially. I always strive to read the whole Quran, the holy book of Islam, during Ramadan. My parents always do. We also do charity; it is highly rewarded if one feeds another family in Ramadan.
I find it a breeze to live without food for half the day. I go to Stuyvestant High School and there are many Muslim students who hang out in the prayer lobby at lunchtime.
At my old Junior High School, I had to stay in the cafeteria during lunch and I couldn't help but stare at everyone eating and stuffing themselves.
But this did teach me self-restraint.
It is very helpful to keep busy, which helps keep the thought of food out of your head. But beware, you can definitely forget that you are fasting. However, if you don't intentionally break your fast, it is forgiven.
I think my parents have the most self-restraint because they cook and handle food while they fast and usually never break their fast while doing so. I usually take the job of seasoning all the raw meat to prevent myself from thinking about hunger.
Ramadan, The Lent and Yom Kippur are all religious observances of fasting by the Muslims, Christians and Jews accordingly. Fasting for Muslims is a great act of worship in which all desires are neglected. Muslims are also not allowed to smoke or have sex during Ramadan.
This helps the heart maintain its tenderness since the desires are not sought, but rather shunned. It is also means of achieving piety and righteousness, and through fasting one can realize the suffering of the poor on their everyday basis. This helps motivate Muslims to help the needy.
With reference to the Jews and Christians, I am not sure if they fast for similar reasons. I do know that Yom Kippur lasts one day, a time for atonement and prayer and during Lent, a 40-day period, Christians give up something they love so they have time to feel sorrow for their sins or offenses.
My parents' childhood was spent in Pakistan, a Muslim country. Everyone was aware about Islam and mostly everyone followed it.
When I went back to visit Pakistan, it was during Ramadan. It felt very different. People were awakened by the loud prayer announcements and no food booths were ever open during the day.
I still wonder what it feels like to grow up in that kind of environment, where no one questions your religion or beliefs.
In a religious way, I think my parent's childhood was easier than mine, but in other ways I think I have better opportunities here in America. Life here in America includes having to defend my religion, which was never an issue for my parents.
But in Pakistan, culture was mixed with religion. My mother wore a loose-fitting "Shalwar Kameez"-- a loose two piece suit-- while in America, I wear jeans and a hijab-- a head scarf.
As a Muslim-American it is my duty to educate others and try to prevent religious ignorance. Because of recent events, many have asked me if the meaning of Ramadan has been affected or changed.
Fasting has always meant giving up desires or obtaining self-restraint. I don't think the meaning has changed, but I think many Muslims fast with the Afghans, Palestinians and other Muslims in their prayers.
We fast, in part, to give up our "wants" that many Muslims go through everyday, beyond the month of Ramadan. All the Muslims in the world fast on the same day during Ramadan, and this brings us together.
Because of Sept. 11, the media has been focusing on Islam and Muslim countries and in many ways that has put many Muslim-Americans in a tough spot. The media exaggerates issues like poverty and women's rights. Afghanistan has been in a state of war for a long time and the country's civilians are suffering mainly because of it.
Women's rights have only been neglected in some countries. But Muslim countries like Pakistan and Turkey have had female leaders.
Instead of trying to point fingers or whatever, I think the media should try to show all sides of Islam so Muslims feel represented or understood and other Americans don't form negative stereotypes.
Many of us are hoping that the Taliban will eventually step down from all of Afghanistan so that Islam can be practiced as it is interpreted in the Quran.
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