“It’s a whole attitude, trying to deprive (myself) of all evil, and trying to present myself with a better image,” architectural engineering junior Marya Mikati said.
For Mikati, a typical day during Ramadan involves waking up at 5 a.m., getting a drink of water, then going back to sleep. When she arises, she cannot eat or drink anything until sunset.
“At the end of the day I’m exhausted,” she said.
But this routine is common for the more than one billion Muslims around the world who fast during the month of Ramadan.
It began Sept. 26, and will continue until Tuesday. Marked by fasting for 30 days, from sunrise to sunset, the tradition is carried on by Muslims young and old. Starting around the age of 12, they are expected to participate in the holy month practices.
Special exceptions are made for the sick, those traveling and women with certain health conditions. They must still make it up in other ways when they can.
“You are to give food to the poor (if you’re not fasting),” Mikati said.
Mikati also makes exceptions when she has a midterm. She does not fast that day, and makes it up at another time in the year.
But for biology senior Naiyerah Kolkailah, fasting is not a huge obstacle. The first couple of days are difficult, she said, but then “you get used to it.”
“I work out a lot. That would make me a little bit dehydrated,” she said.
Working out at 4 or 5 p.m. makes it easier, since she can break her fast right after.
Ramadan is also a special time of remembrance for Muslims because they believe that during this time of year, the first verses of the Quran were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad by Allah.
They follow the lunar calendar, which shifts by 11 days each year. Ramadan is always celebrated the ninth month. It is believed that the Prophet Muhammad received the first verses on the 27th night. This is the Night of Power (Lailat ul-Qadr).
Many Muslims spend this entire night in prayer, honoring the Quran’s words that the night is “better than a thousand months.”
Fasting, or saum, is also very important because it is one of the five pillars, or acts of worship, for Muslims.
“Without (fasting) we’re not Muslims,” said Hisham Assal, current president of the Islamic Society of the Central Coast.
Traditionally, the first meal, suhoor, is eaten before sunrise, and the fast is broken after sundown with the second meal, iftar. This usually begins with dates and sweet drinks to provide a quick energy boost.
Other traditional Ramadan foods are nuts and honey.
During the day, Muslims are not to consume any food or drink and are to abstain from smoking and marital sex.
“As Muslims we are held accountable for every single thing we do,” Kolkailah said.
She explained that each person has one angel on each shoulder. The angel on the right records good deeds, and the angel on the left records bad deeds. All of these deeds are written in a book and will be read on the day of judgment, she said.
During Ramadan, practicing good deeds is especially important, as they are multiplied 70 times.
Fasting is also beneficial in several ways and is a personal experience for Muslims.
“It’s a major discipline exercise for me. It’s spiritual as well as physically detaching your mind from your body,” Mikati said.
Kolkailah said she grows in self-discipline, self-control and patience.
“If there’s anything about your life you’d like to change, you can do it” after Ramadan, Assal said.
At the end of the month the festival Eid al-Fitr celebrates breaking the fast. Muslims dress in their finest clothes, decorate their homes and visit with friends and family.
Near the end of the month, they are encouraged to help the poor and contribute to mosques.
Charity is another of the five pillars, and is especially emphasized during Ramadan.
“It’s recommended that people give more during this month,” Assal said.
Usually the Islamic Society will collect money from members and give to a poor person or family in the area.
“We try to get involved with the community as much as we can,” he said.
As for the leadership, their work is all voluntary and service is very important to them.
“The leader of the people is really the servant of the people,” said Nisha Abdul Cader, a child abuse specialist and representative for the San Luis Obispo Interfaith Ministerial Association.
“We want to be here. We want our kids to grow up here,” she said, referring to the ways Muslims are treated in the U.S.
While Muslims may have a negative stereotype because of how terrorism is portrayed in the media, Cader believes this country is not so bad.
“It’s not as extremist in America,” she said of Europe being more aggressive toward Muslims.
“I really hope that the individual gets involved again,” she said, wanting Muslims and other U.S. citizens to be a part of the political process for social change.
Aside from politics, service, fasting and praying, at the core of Ramadan and all other Muslim practices is obedience.
“I’m pleasing God,” Mikati said, and that is most important to her.
Every Friday and Saturday potlucks are held at the Ludwick Community Center in San Luis Obispo where Muslims come together from the Islamic Society. All are welcome to the meal which begins around sunset.