U Muslims Observe Month of Ramadan

Bulent Yilmaz is hungry, but won’t eat; thirsty, but won’t drink.

He fasts in honor of Ramadan, the holy month observed by Muslims worldwide.

And while he remains at the University of Utah, he feels a connection to the innocent civilians affected by the U.S.-led military actions in Afghanistan.

“It is estimated that 2 or 3 million people in Afghanistan will feel the hunger this year. We can understand them better in this month” said Yilmaz, president of the Muslim Student Association.

Based on a lunar calendar, Ramadan started last Friday. During the 30-day period, Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking or having sex during the daytime hours.

It is a month of self-discipline, said Hiba Al-Zahawi, a sophomore studying computer science.

“You try to hold yourself back and try to discipline yourself during the month,” she said.

It is during this period that Muslims believe Allah revealed the Quran to the prophet Mohammed. After breaking the fast each night, Muslims are invited to attend the mosque where they can participate in Taraweeha prayers, which include excerpts from the Quran, the holy book.

Ramadan coincides with the beginning of the new lunar year, which shifts back 11 days every calendar year.

“It is a new beginning,” Al Zahawi said.

Yilmaz said going without food and water for so many hours each day is a challenge at first, but as the month progresses, the body conforms to the new schedule.

“It is not that hard, but I try to practice before Ramadan for a couple of days,” he said.

U student Kirin Patel is just happy to be able to fast. For the past eight years, her diabetes has made it impossible for her to go so long without food. And while it is still a challenge for her this year, she enjoys making the attempt.

“I have not stopped smiling in three days. The way you feel is so different, so much more at ease. The atmosphere and the environment is so different,” Patel said Sunday.

That feeling is one Muslims try to share with each other during Ramadan. Many times, families will invite each other over to break the fast, or they will go as a group to the mosque for their night-time meal.

These celebrations in Salt Lake take place amidst a population that knows relatively little about Islam or its holy month, but in light of the Sept. 11 attacks, more are becoming informed, Al Zahawi said.

And while the military actions in Afghanistan trouble Al-Zahawi, Patel and Yilmaz, they understand that the war creates a chance to explain their faith to their fellow Americans.

“This is a good opportunity for non-Muslims to learn about Islam,” Yilmaz said.

Al-Zahawi has noticed that when she tells people she is not eating because of Ramadan, they nod with understanding, something that hasn’t happened in the past.

Part of this new understanding comes from an increased desire for U.S. citizens to know about Islam in light of the war waged against al Qaeda, a Muslim extremist terrorist group, harbored in Afghanistan.

Politicians and military personnel have debated on whether to continue the bombings during the holy month, so as not to offend Muslims throughout the world. The United States has decided to limit the number of bombings, but not to stop them totally. Many Salt Lake Muslims are upset at the military actions and sympathize with the innocent Afghans.

“This Ramadan, we are a lot more united in our grief for the people in Afghanistan. Our hearts go out to the people who are freezing and starving, who are innocent. We feel a little of what they feel this month,” she said.

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