Posted Online: July 07, 2013, 12:26 am

Ramadan: Do not add water or bananas

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"Did I ever tell you kids about my friend Mark?"

My sisters and I gathered around our father, excited to hear our favorite Ramadan story.

"No, Daddy! Who's Mark?"

He laughed and continued. "Mark and I went to college together. My first Ramadan when I told him I was fasting, he asked if he could try it out with me. I said OK, and gave him the instructions: Don't eat or drink anything from sun up to sun down.

Mark agreed and the next day he fasted his first Ramadan day.

That evening I met him and asked how the fasting went.

Mark looked tired. He said, "Hmmm, it was hard! All I had today was bananas and water!"

I was surprised. "Mark! You're not supposed to eat or drink anything."

Mark shot me a look of confusion. "Wait, you were serious? Not even bananas and water!?"

Yes, not even bananas and water.

During the month of Ramadan, Muslims all over the world will be fasting, not eating or drinking anything from dawn until dusk.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. It is during this month that the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammed over 1400 years ago.

In explaining the significance of the month of Ramadan, God says in the Quran: "The month of Ramadan (is that month) in which the Quran was revealed, as a guidance for the people and clear proofs of guidance and criterion. So whoever sights [the new moon of] the month should fast it." (Chapter 2, verse 185). Muslims who are healthy enough strive to follow this command and fast during Ramadan.

As a child, I didn't always understand that fasting intends to build compassion and mercy.During this time, Muslims increase charitable giving.

Throughout the year, the QC Muslim community volunteers at the local food pantry. In addition, during Ramadan, an annual food drive is held to collect supplies and financial donations for the food pantry. During Ramadan the temporary pangs of hunger are a reminder to serve our brothers and sisters in humanity.

Ramadan is an opportunity to exit from the trials and demands of everyday life and refocus on moral and spiritual improvement.

Many Muslims spend more time at the mosque, taking time from work to be with family and improve relationships with one another and their communities.

We enter the month of Ramadan understanding that if we can voluntarily refrain from eating and drinking for thirty consecutive days, then we have the strength to refrain from those things that are considered sinful for the remainder of the year.

As tempting as it might be, Ramadan is not intended to be a month of extreme dieting.

Those who are fasting make it a point to eat a nutritious, balanced breakfast before dawn in preparation for the day's fast, and in the evening the fast is broken with the much-anticipated iftar (fast-breaking dinner). The mosques in the area (Moline, Bettendorf and Clinton) each have potluck dinners on varying nights during the week.

Each of the mosques also has nightly prayers.

As a child, I remember being excited to go to the mosque and play with my friends. Then as the night matured and prayers continued, I would drift off to sleep curled up on a soft prayer rug, serenaded by the melodious sound of the Imam's recitation and the gentle hum of ceiling fans.

As an adult, performing the prayers alongside my family and friends while listening to the Quran being recited is a soothing reminder of what I believe.

The Quran is divided into 30 parts, and each night during prayers, a portion of the Quran is read in its original Arabic. Thus the recitation of the Quran will be completed by the last day of Ramadan.

Ramadan ends with the celebration called Eid ul Fitr (roughly translated as the festival of breaking the fast). Eid celebrations are different around the world, however there are some basic practices that Muslims follow.

On the day of Eid, Muslims often take time off work to attend special prayers, celebrating another successful month of fasting. Children look forward to Eid as they dress up in colorful new clothes and are gifted sweets, money and toys. Muslims visit each other, and special food and sweets are cooked and shared with friends and neighbors.

As I join Muslims in the Quad-Cities and around the globe preparing for this blessed month, I remember the excitement I felt as a child. On the first night of Ramadan we would gather to read Quran and pray, welcoming this month of mercy. And, as we left for school on the first day of fasting, leaving behind our empty lunchboxes, Daddy would wish us Ramadan Kareem and say, "Remember girls, don't be like Mark! Not even bananas and water!"

Asana Mohamad is a member of the Islamic Center of the Quad-Cities in Moline contributed this column to Faith & Values.