For millions of Muslims around the world, Oct. 3 signified the start of Ramadan, the holiest month of the year for them.
During Ramadan, Muslims refrain from eating or drinking anything from dawn until sunset every day for 30 days. They begin their fast with a meal called suhoor in the early morning and end with iftar in the evenings.
"It's a purification of your heart and body and mind and it gives you satisfaction. When we fast we thank [the] Almighty and think of those who don't have anything to eat," said All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) Center mosque member Munawar Ashraf of Herndon at an Interfaith and Hispanic Heritage Ramadan Iftar Saturday. "The Quran tells us [to think about] all humanity, all people, ... like your brothers and sisters."
FARHANAHZ ELLIS, ADAMS Center Interfaith chairperson, said the ADAMS Center holds the Interfaith Iftar, to give Muslims and non-Muslims an opportunity to share their beliefs and gain a greater understanding of each other so that they can unite to help the greater community.
For her, it's a special time of the year.
"It's a time to get empathy and understand how other people go through life," Ellis said. "Someone once told me that even when you fast for Ramadan, it's easier. You know when you start and when you end. There are millions of people who are in Ramadan permanently because they don't have the means."
The breaking of the fast is held around the same time each day after sunset, Ellis said. To pass the time, the small group discussed the history of Ramadan and what it meant to participate in the fast.
According to ADAMS Center member Muhammad Ashraf of Herndon, Ramadan is celebrated for two main reasons: it is the month Muslims believe the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Hazrat Muhammad and the time of fasting is a reminder of what it's like to go without.
"When you fast you remember those who are less fortunate. If you are not hungry, you will never feel," he said.
Omar Ashraf, ADAMS Center chairman of the board, agreed but said the fast is more complex than just not eating or drinking. In fact, smoking, drinking and sexual intercourse are also prohibited during sawn — the fasting period.
"When you are fasting continuously for 30 days, you're tuqwa or more God-conscious for the rest of the year. Not only are you fasting of food but you are fasting of eyes, not seeing the bad things; fasting of ears, not hearing the bad things; fasting of mouth, not saying the bad things — and hopefully, you'll continue doing the same for the rest of the year," he said.
Aliyah Khan, director of family and domestic relations for the Association of Muslim Women in America and ADAMS Center member, agreed.
"It's not just staying away from unlawful things but also those things that are normally law, like eating. Most of the time we're allowed to eat," she said. "The purpose is if you can train yourself to say no to something lawful it becomes very easy to say no to something unlawful."
Khan said that it is also typical for Muslim families to give at least two and a half percent of their wealth and their time helping charities, the poor and the hungry during Ramadan.
THE IFTAR — fast breaking — starts with a small snack of dates and water and a "supplication to dua," a prayer that gives thanks to Allah and signifies the end of the fast for the day, Ellis said.
Khan said it is tradition to use dates because they are what the prophet used to break his fast.
After the prayer, it is common to have traditional Pakistani appetizers like samosa — a spicy potato, vegetable or meat pastry-filled dish; fruitchard — a medley of pears, various melons and grapes; and pakara — ground chick peas mixed with spices and fried before dinner, which traditionally consists of rice, vegetables, meat and pita bread.
Going 12 hours without eating or drinking is not an easy feat but ADAMS Center member Shahina Toor of Herndon said she feels stronger while she's fasting.
"You feel healthy, not tired," she said. "It's after you break fast, you feel tired."
ADAMS member Isa Lima of Springfield said he doesn't really feel the fasting but he has noticed that he gets angry easier when he hasn't eaten.
"It tests your patience. When you don't eat, you get aggressive. It's like walking through a minefield, very carefully, the whole month," he said.
Muhammad Ashraf said that fasting is only required of healthy people. The sick, sometimes the elderly, diabetics, children and women who are menstruating, nursing or pregnant are excused from practicing the fast. Those who have a short-term illness or reason why they cannot fast are expected to compensate by making it up later and those with more long-term issues can do so by feeding someone less fortunate each day they cannot fast.
Ramadan ends with Eid al-Fitr, the Festival of Breaking the Fast, which occurs Nov. 4 this year.