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BOB ABERNETHY, anchor: As Muslims in the U.S. and around the world observe the holy month of Ramadan until mid-November, we wondered what it is like to fast during daylight hours for a month — eating and drinking nothing, not even water. So we spent a day with Imam Yahya Hendi, the Muslim chaplain at Georgetown University in Washington and also the leader of the Islamic Society of Frederick, Maryland.
Imam YAHYA HENDI (Muslim Chaplain, Georgetown University): Every Muslim has to fast. Fasting is to abstain from food and drink or any intimate relationship with your spouse from dawn to sunset.
I leave home around 4:30 a.m. to be on time for the morning sahoor or breakfast, the meal with which Muslims start their fasting. After that, people immediately go into meditation and into prayer.
When I was seven years old, I fasted for two weeks. They were so difficult; I remember them. But again, everyone around me was fasting, so it was easy to fast because everyone was doing it. The year after that, when I was eight years old, I fasted three weeks. The year after that, I fasted the entire month. Since then, I have always fasted the month of Ramadan.
I start my day with a special personal prayer in which I sit down and reflect on my relationship with God. I fight the temptations of life with conviction, and with the belief that if there is a will, there is a way — to keep me on the path of righteousness.
I finish my meditation. I sit down to do some work. Then I say, “Whom am I going to visit today?” I need to visit someone who is not a Muslim. My fellow human beings are not all Muslims. I reach out to a Jewish friend, visiting with a rabbi whom I have known for some time. But he’s very busy in his congregation; I’m very busy. The month of Ramadan says, “Go give him a hug. Be good brothers, partners on the path to God.”
UNIDENTIFIED RABBI: So, if we fast, it’s to make us sensitive to the people who don’t have food to eat on a daily basis. And Isaiah says that any fast that doesn’t include dignity of the poor and the needy is not a fast that God wants.
Imam HENDI: There are many temptations. As you pass by a restaurant, and you get the beautiful smell, you know, a great smell, very attractive, you say, “Wait a minute, I need to get into that Chinese restaurant right now!” I mean, I love Chinese food. I just love it. So, for me, just passing by a Chinese restaurant at 12:00 midday, and I cannot just go in as I usually do, is quite difficult. But I believe in sustaining myself and being in control. This is what fasting is all about — my ability to say to my desires, “No.”
There are people who are exempted from fasting. When my wife was pregnant, she could not fast. It was her choice not to fast. She decided to calculate how much money she usually spends on food, and she decided to take that money and give it to a poor family within our neighborhood. Every Muslim is expected to reach out to neighbors, even if from a different religion.
Muslims are encouraged to break their fast with a small date, a drink, pray.
GROUP IN PRAYER: Almighty One, we ask that you accept our fasting and that you may enter us into paradise.
Imam HENDI: Prophet Muhammad said, “If people were to know the benefits of Ramadan and the good things Ramadan could bring about, they would wish that the entire year is Ramadan.” I really wish that the entire year is Ramadan.