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Ramadan: A Spiritual Cleansing

Eid-al-Fitr marks end of fasting.

Each year, Potomac Falls resident Amer Ahmad looks forward to fasting and all that the month of Ramadan means for Muslims.

“It’s a blessed month,” said Amer Ahmad, a 1984 Park View High School graduate who originally is from Vietnam. “It’s a very special spiritual feeling. It’s a rejuvenation of mind, body and soul through the daily routine of fasting and praying during the month of Ramadan.”

Fasting from sunrise to sundown provides Amer Ahmad and other Muslims with a physical and spiritual cleansing, showing them that by disciplining themselves physically to not eat, they can discipline themselves spiritually as well. Ramadan is the third of five pillars in Islam, the religion Muslims practice. Muslims, who come from a variety of ethnic backgrounds and national origins, believe in one sublime God, say five daily prayers, give zakat or charitable donations and make the Hajj, or the once-in-a-lifetime pilgrimage to Mecca, the four other pillars.

Ramadan is the ninth lunar month of the Islamic calendar when it is believed the Quran was compiled in 610 A.D. The Quran records Allah’s final revelations to mankind that were revealed in Arabic through the Angel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad. Muhammad is the last messenger for Allah, the Arabic word for God, following Jesus, Moses and Noah.

TO FAST, Amer Ahmad and his wife Michele woke up before dawn to eat breakfast and ate dinner after sunset, going without food, drink and water during the daylight hours from Oct. 26 to Nov. 25.

“Basically what we’re doing is skipping lunch,” Amer Ahmad said.

Amer and Michele Ahmad’s son Aadam, 5, and daughter Alisa, 1, are not required to fast, along with other children under the age of puberty, the elderly, the sick, pregnant women and nursing mothers, and travelers.

Fasting is a way to connect Muslims with “the basic things of life,” said Yasir Syeed, director of community and media relations for the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) Center. “It’s not about torturing yourself. It’s about appreciating the food you do have.”

Amer Ahmad had to stop fasting midway through the month when he got a cold. As his religion allows, he plans to make up the days he missed once he is well again, or he could give to charity.

“One of the beauties during Ramadan … God doesn’t want to impose hardships,” Amer Ahmad said, adding that the idea behind fasting is self-restraint. “It’s a rejuvenation of your faith.”

Michele Ahmad considers Ramadan “a time of reflection on your faith [and] your relationship with God.”

A former Catholic, Michele Ahmad converted to the Islamic faith before she married Amer 14 years ago. They met at a data services company in Reston where they both had worked. Now they both work for the same financial services company in Falls Church and attend the ADAMS Center in Sterling, where they have been members for the past 12 years.

“When I met my husband, he introduced be to Islam. The more I learned about it, the more I felt that was what my beliefs were,” Michele Ahmad said. “It’s just a down-to-earth religion. It’s back to basics. It’s not made up.”

DURING RAMADAN, Muslims are required to pray in addition to their five daily prayers and read the Quran from beginning to end during the fifth prayer, which is held in congregation. Throughout the year, Muslims hold communal or congregational prayers every Friday when the Imam, a learned person of faith, gives a sermon and Muslims follow with prayer. Believing in the equality of all people, Muslims do not have a hierarchy in the mosque, their place of worship.

Muslims meet in congregation again on Tuesday for Eid-al-Fitr, or the breaking of fast. Eid-al-Fitr is one of two main holidays for Muslims, the second being the Hajj. On Eid-al-Fitr, Muslims typically hold a communal prayer in the morning, greet each other afterwards with Happy Eid or Blessed Eid, and visit family and friends to “of course, feast,” as Amer Ahmad said.

Amer and Michele Ahmad typically host lunch at their home for Amer Ahmad’s family and go to the home of another relative for dinner. They give their children gifts on a holiday that is like our Christmas when parents and relatives give children gifts but typically do not exchange them among themselves. In Michele Ahmad’s case, she gives her Christmas gifts to her family on Eid instead of on Dec. 25.

“It depends on the family and how they want to celebrate it,” Michele Ahmad said.