Toronto Star

Rhythms of f Ramadan

Ramadan, the month of prayer and fasting that ends on Oct. 23, is the takes determinat­ion — and juggling work, family duties and communa part of their quest for spiritual and moral growth. Last week, the Star s of the Ramadan experience as it’s lived by t

- Story by Nicholas Keung/Photos by Charla Jones

Asif Khan, 33, an investment advisor with Nesbitt Burns, and Tanya, 31, an elementary school teacher, both consider themselves “morning people.” But come Ramadan, they push themselves out of bed earlier than usual. Facing a dawn-todusk fast, they’ll need to consume enough liquid and food before the sun rises to carry their bodies through the day. And they can’t afford not to be time-conscious.

According to the sahar and iftar timetable they follow carefully, on this day, daybreak will be at 6:11 a.m. and sunset at 6:41 p.m., meaning for Asif no food or drink between those hours.

Tanya is three months pregnant, so this year — like those sick or travelling, menstruati­ng women and children too young to fast — she is exempted from strict adherence to the fast.

But that doesn’t mean she isn’t observing the month in other meaningful ways. And she will fast at another time to make up for it, she adds, Ramadan fasting being one of the five “pillars” of Islam, along with belief in one God, regular prayers, help to the needy and a pilgrimage to Mecca. 5:45 a.m. It’s Friday, the Islamic holy day, and in her simply decorated, semi-detached home in the quiet suburb of Maple, Tanya is already up and putting together some omelettes with toast, fruit salad and the strong espresso typical of her parents’ native Lebanon.

“You eat what you normally eat and not gorge yourself,” she says of this predawn meal.

One reason for the fast is to encourage empathy and charity toward those who go hungry because of poverty. During Ramadan, says Tanya, “You feel what the hungry feel. Regardless of one’s social and economic status, hunger feels the same for everybody. And you’d be amazed how little we need to survive.”

While it takes some adjustment at first, Asif says a Ramadan in fall or winter is much easier than one in mid-summer, when the fast can stretch from as early as 5 a.m. until 9:30 p.m. (Because the Islamic calendar follows moon cycles, the month of Ramadan moves around the seasons.)

“Physically, it does strain your body,” says Asif, whose parents came from Pakistan. “But that’s when spirituali­ty comes in. That’s what gets you through over the 30 days.”

The close-knit community of which the family is part plays a big role during this period of spiritual rejuvenati­on. 6:21 a.m. After a brief voluntary prayer at home, Asif is soon dashing into the dark street and heading for Baitul Islam Mosque near Jane St. and Teston Rd., a kilometre and a half away, while Tanya cleans up the kitchen and gets daughters Alia, 5, and Safiya, 3 ready for the day.

Despite the early hour, traffic is busy along Jane St., with Muslims coming in from all directions. One by one, wearing thick jackets over their flimsy traditiona­l garb, worshipper­s file into the prayer hall — men through the front entrance into the simple but lofty main hall; women in hijabs (headscarve­s) through side doors to a prayer room downstairs.

Following the lead of imam Naseem Mahdi, the faithful, facing in the direction of Mecca, offer prayers in the traditiona­l pattern, cupping their hands in front of their chests, then behind their ears, then bowing at 90 degrees with both arms on their knees, and finally kneeling down, and turning their heads to the right, then left — all in unison. Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatulla­h, the prayers end: Peace be upon you and God’s blessings.

Alternatin­g between English and Urdu to meet the needs of an older generation and their offspring, Mahdi

of preaches on the importance patience and steadfastn­ess.

“It’s great to be here, praying with other Muslims in the mosque, so you do not feel alone,” notes Asif. 6:45 a.m. Dawn is slowly lighting the sky as Asif and others leave the mosque. 7:55 a.m. Themorning­dashis on as Asif gets Alia to school and drops Safiya off at his sister-inlaw’s home. He catches a broadcast of a Ramadan sermon from England on a 24-hour Muslim satellite station, then grabs a 30minute nap before starting his day in his second-floor home office. Between calls to clients and researchin­g stocks, Asif says he is too preoccupie­d to feel his empty stomach.

“I’m by myself at home and I could have cheated easily. Even if you don’t get caught, it’s still cheating and you’re defeating the purpose of the fast,” he explains. “You just stay busy. If you just sit there and do nothing, there’s certainly hunger pain. But trust me, it’s really not a struggle.”

Before 1 p.m., Asif is back in his car, returning to the mosque for the second prayer of the day. 12:49 p.m. At Kleinburg Public School, where she’s put in a full morning teaching her 18 Grade 2 pupils, Tanya doesn’t have the luxury of leaving to attend communal prayer. Instead, while kids enjoy their lunch break on the playground, she splashes her face and hands in ceremonial cleansing and finds a quiet corner in her classroom to say prayers, seated in a chair facing toward Mecca.

Colleague Gabriella DiPasquale recalls asking Tanya questions about Ramadan when she first joined the school in 2003, intrigued to learn more about what was to her an unfamiliar religious tradition.

“In today’s society, many people have their focus and priority on the wrong places; it’s inspiring to see Tanya so connected with her faith. She just lives her faith,” said the Grade 1 teacher, whose school joined an interfaith field trip through the non-profit Canadian Centre for Diversity last year.

Lal Khan Malik, a vice-presi- dent of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Canada, said mosque attendance typically triples in Ramadan, when some worshipper­s actually live there during the last 10 days of the month, the holiest time, so as to devote themselves to Qur’an study and prayer. “In non-Muslim countries, there are greater temptation­s and it takes more courage and determinat­ion to observe the rituals that those in Muslim countries would simply take for granted,” Malik explains. “Here, Muslims have to make a conscious effort to make the right choices to follow their faith.”

By 3:30 p.m., Tanya is home, getting ready for the third prayer of the day with the rest of the family. She didn’t always practise her faith as outwardly as she does now, she says.

“I didn’t start wearing the hijab until I was 23. It has become part of your personalit­y and state of mind, a reminder of being a Muslim,” she says. “At times, some who don’t know you are bound to pass judgment on you. You have to explain to people that it’s just part of your faith.”

The long day is definitely straining as patience runs short. Tanya has to raise her voice repeatedly to get her two girls to dig out their hijabs and lay out the four prayer carpets.

“When I used to fast, you got tired and irritated at the end of the day. Sometimes, it does test your patience with all these kids in school.”

Together, she and Asif go through the familiar pattern of prayers, Alia and Safiya imitating as best they can but, as kids will, lolling on their mats at times.

The girls will be expected to start fasting and participat­ing fully in prayer only when they get a bit older, but they’re already learning Arabic penmanship and can recite portions of the Qur’an before bed. “For us, the training of our children starts from the day they are born,” says Tanya.

At 4:30 p.m., Asif is back at the mosque again, joining about 150 others at the Dars, a communal Qur’an study. The children have been dropped off for swimming lessons. Tanya is home preparing the Friday iftar feast with grilled chicken, samosas, a leafy green salad, herb-dressed potatoes and spicy kabobs. As usual, she’s preparing more than enough, in anticipati­on of the relatives and visitors likely to drop by to exchange greetings and share the feast — hospitalit­y being especially valued during Ramadan. 6:43 p.m. The best moment of the day approaches as the sun slips below the horizon.

At the imam’s signal, Asif and the others at the mosque break their fast together — gratefully devouring three sweet dates, a tradition begun by the Prophet Muhammad, and a box of mango juice. Then the men are out the door, rushing home to be with their families. 7:30 p.m. Tonight, Asif’s mother, Bushra Khan, a supply teacher, has come over to join the party, bringing along some of her own fried rice. Asif’s elder brother, Ahsan, shows up a little later, with a cousin and a neighbour. Though they’ve already broken fast, they happily accept some of Tanya’s almonds wrapped in sweet dates. 8:41 p.m. After dinner, members of the family head their separate ways — Tanya to the mosque, Asif to the gym at Maple High School, where he and other Muslim men and youth will enjoy an evening of basketball. They kiss the girls goodnight, leaving them with Asif’s mother.

“We just love the games and to be with others after a long day of work. It’s just my thing,” says Asif, who says evening prayers at home before leaving for the gym. “This is one of the highlights of the week for me.”

 ??  ?? Tanya Khan rushes to put a hearty breakfast on the table early enough so all get their fill before the sun peeks over the horizon.
Tanya Khan rushes to put a hearty breakfast on the table early enough so all get their fill before the sun peeks over the horizon.
 ??  ?? Asif Khan offers the first prayer of the day before heading to a communal service at the mosque, a kilometre and a half away.
Asif Khan offers the first prayer of the day before heading to a communal service at the mosque, a kilometre and a half away.
 ??  ?? Tanya Khan mounts the steps of her Vaughan mosque for special Ramadan evening prayers, which are spiced
Tanya Khan mounts the steps of her Vaughan mosque for special Ramadan evening prayers, which are spiced
 ??  ?? Worshipper­s leave Baitul Islam Mosque after early prayers, many heading to a full workday in settings that challenge the self-discipline and spiritual focus Ramadan asks of them.
Worshipper­s leave Baitul Islam Mosque after early prayers, many heading to a full workday in settings that challenge the self-discipline and spiritual focus Ramadan asks of them.
 ??  ?? Alia, 5, collects her things for school. Her 3-year-old sister Safiya will stay with an aunt while their parents, an investment advisor and a teacher, are busy earning a living.
Alia, 5, collects her things for school. Her 3-year-old sister Safiya will stay with an aunt while their parents, an investment advisor and a teacher, are busy earning a living.
 ??  ?? Working at home on Fr
Working at home on Fr
 ??  ?? with recitation­s of long portions of the Qur’an — the idea being to read right through it during the auspicious month.
with recitation­s of long portions of the Qur’an — the idea being to read right through it during the auspicious month.
 ??  ?? ridays lets Asif attend the mosque.
ridays lets Asif attend the mosque.
 ??  ?? Asif’s brother and cousin join Tanya and the rest of the family to savour a celebrator­y post-sunset iftar dinner.
Asif’s brother and cousin join Tanya and the rest of the family to savour a celebrator­y post-sunset iftar dinner.
 ??  ?? Three plump dates await Asif at sunset as he finishes prayers after a long day of abstaining from food and drink.
Three plump dates await Asif at sunset as he finishes prayers after a long day of abstaining from food and drink.
 ??  ?? Asif prays with other men in the mosque’s lofty main hall, carpeted in grey and green. Women take part in a separate room.
Asif prays with other men in the mosque’s lofty main hall, carpeted in grey and green. Women take part in a separate room.
 ??  ?? In the midst of a busy school day, Tanya Khan carves out a quiet moment for midday prayers while her Grade 2 pupils are out on the playground.
In the midst of a busy school day, Tanya Khan carves out a quiet moment for midday prayers while her Grade 2 pupils are out on the playground.

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