Fargo Muslims persist through 18-hour fasts during Ramadan this summer

FARGO -- Just after 9 p.m. on Wednesday, June 6, the Islamic Center of Fargo was bustling. People parked their cars at the first open spot they found, hurried into the building, took off their shoes in the foyer and settled in the main room for a...

FARGO - Just after 9 p.m. on Wednesday, June 6, the Islamic Center of Fargo was bustling. People parked their cars at the first open spot they found, hurried into the building, took off their shoes in the foyer and settled in the main room for a small meal called "iftar," for which they've been waiting nearly 18 hours.

It's the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, and Muslims across the world fast from sunrise to sunset. No water, no food.

For Muslims in Fargo, that means not eating or drinking from about 3:30 in the wee hours of the morning until the sun sets well after 9 p.m. these days. Muslims in far-northern locations experience a particularly long fast in the summer because of our long daylight hours.

While some may hesitate to undertake this kind of endeavor, many Muslims approach it with conviction and gratitude and come out feeling better.

Sunrise to sunset

"It's summer and it's very hot, but it's part of my faith to fast," said Ahmed Makaraan, a student at North Dakota State University and youth coordinator with the African American Development Association.

That's how many Muslims in Fargo feel this year as Ramadan fell during a stretch of abnormally hot days. They have to do this and so they will.

Ramadan is one of Islam's most revered times of the year, and Muslims are required to abstain from eating or drinking, including water, between sunrise and sunset. In fact, many start the fast before sunrise because of prayer time that is required first.

A complication involves the vast global Muslim diaspora, which means people find themselves dealing with differences in fasting times. Muslims at northern latitudes experience longer days than those further south.

In Fargo, Muslims fast from around 3:30 a.m. until 9:20 p.m. In some countries at higher latitudes, like Iceland or Norway, fasting can stretch up to 22 hours.

But these daunting hours don't bother Muslims, for whom the month is a spiritual endeavor.

"It takes determination to go through with the fast and not drink or eat for almost 19 hours," said Sifat Ibitsum, a graduate computer science student at NDSU. Ibitsum is originally from Bangladesh where the fast would last about 13 hours.

Yahya Frederickson, an English professor at Minnesota State University Moorhead, has been practicing Ramadan for nearly 28 years and a few extra hours during the summer don't make much of a difference.

"I've experienced it in the winter and the summer," he said. "You adjust."

Islamic scholarly judgments vary when it comes to how cities at high northern latitudes manage when fasting times get as long 22 hours, Frederickson said.

Some rulings allow people to follow the fasting times at Mecca, the Islamic holy city in Saudi Arabia, he said, while others say to copy whatever times the closest southerly Muslim community follows.

While Ramadan is a requirement in Islam, leniency is given to those who are physically unable to participate or if it is unhealthy to go through with a month-long fast, said Mohamed Sanaullah, a physician at Sanford Medical Center in Fargo.

Pregnant women, the elderly, children under the age of 12 and those who are sick are not required to fast, he said. A person can stop fasting during Ramadan if they fall sick, he said.

In any given day, Muslims can partake in two meals.

A pre-dawn breakfast, called "sahoor," is allowed but has to occur before the morning prayer, Sanaullah said. Someone having sahoor during Ramadan usually has it around 3 a.m., he said. A night meal, called "iftar," is usually eaten immediately after sunset.

Health effects and a sense of appreciation

Fasting for 18 hours a day for a month might seem unhealthy, even dangerous.

But certain studies conducted on fasting show it has a positive effect on the body.

The most direct impact of fasting is weight loss because calorie intake is reduced, said Linda Bartholomay, director of Sanford Nutritional Services.

Lowering caloric intake can also help with lowering cholesterol and blood sugar levels, she said, and the body gets better at metabolising the food that is consumed.

"There have been enough studies done that fasting is actually good for you," Sanaullah said. "Fasting helps ... exfoliate you and gets your body in rhythm."

Ibitsum and Said Ibrahim, an insurance agent, said fasting helps with any indigestion problems.

Bartholomay said some studies showed people are in better moods when fasting because they are in control of what they consume and feel fasting serves a good purpose.

Ibrahim said Ramadan helped him quit smoking, since it is a time people are encouraged to rid themselves of bad habits. He said he stopped smoking for Ramadan in 2016 and hasn't smoked since.

Moreover, Ramadan is supposed to bring a sense of gratitude into one's life, Sanaullah said. People often take food for granted and don't realize how much is consumed or thrown away, he said.

The objective is to feel the hunger and the thirst, Makaraan said.

Ramadan is a time to be grateful for what you have, Sanaullah said. "You get more conscious and appreciative of the good things in life," he said.

Coming to the end

Ramadan's end is marked the same way it begins: with the rise of the new crescent moon, the first moon after a new moon. The day after the end is called Eid-al-Fitr and that will fall either on June 15 or 16, depending if the new crescent moon is sighted on June 14 or 15.

Eid celebrates the accomplishments made during Ramadan, Frederickson said. Frederickson converted to Islam after returning to Moorhead from a Peace Corps mission teaching English in Yemen. He said Ramadan is a time for people to engage spiritually and socially with other Muslims.

The last 10 days of Ramadan are an especially important time when people are encouraged to spend more time at the mosque to pray, he said.

"When it ends, we're all kind of sad," Frederickson said. "I have lots of fond memories of Ramadan."