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

Toronto Star - - Keeping The Faith - 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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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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