On Faith

Mona Darwich

Ramadan feeds
spirituality and

Ramadan started on Oct. 25 and will end Thanksgiving week.

As I started fasting this year, I had to focus on not grabbing Halloween candy scattered in every office I entered around the University of Hawaii campus.

I am a chocoholic, and not eating chocolates is a big deal to me, especially when they are everywhere at this time of the year.

When it was time for others to go trick-or-treating, Muslims on Oahu were breaking our fast right after sunset.

Ramadan is the holiest month for Muslims worldwide. It is special because it was the month that the holy Quran was revealed to prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Ramadan is part of our lunar calendar, so every year it falls on different dates and moves to different seasons.

Muslims are required to fast from sunrise to sunset for a month, to abstain from bad deeds and do what is good. To fast is to feel what people less fortunate feel: hunger and thirst.

It is a means to deny the physical self to develop the spiritual self. It is a method of self-purification and self-reflection.

The sick, elderly, travelers, children, pregnant or nursing women are all exempt from fasting.

Mona Darwich holds her 3-month-old son, Khalil Darwich-Gatto. Her family celebrates Ramadan with special foods.

On Oahu, Muslims celebrate the month of Ramadan in different ways reflecting their cultural traditions.

Some go to Hawaii's only mosque, at Manoa, every evening to break their fasting with fellow Muslims. At the mosque, every day's menu is a surprise.

You might eat Egyptian, Palestinian, Pakistani-Indian, Moroccan, Mediterranean and American foods. The variety of foods at the mosque reflects the diversity of Muslims on Oahu.

Other Muslims break their fasting with family dinners and by inviting friends over. And, for military Muslims, many get together at Schofield Barracks on Fridays and Saturdays, breaking their fast together with families and single Muslim soldiers.

Personally, I break my fast with different Muslim groups that I belong to.

The first day of Ramadan, I ended my fast with great style by eating with friends and members of the UH Muslim Student Association at a Greek restaurant with delicious gyros, tabouleh, rice, stuffed grape leaves, hummus and a Coke, followed by a refreshing ice cream.

By chance, I met other Muslim friends breaking their fast at the same restaurant. On Saturdays, I end my fasting with other military Muslim families at Schofield Barracks by sharing favorite ethnic dishes in a festive potluck.

Having friends over for dinner to end fasting is another way I plan my week during the month of Ramadan.

For Egyptian Muslims like my family, Ramadan has its special foods and pastries.

The first day of Ramadan is celebrated with a big roasted duck -- don't ask me why, I don't know.

We make daily pastries called "kataif" with a nice crust filled with cheese and nuts, deep-fried and then dipped in honey.

These pastries are made only during Ramadan. We have a special fresh juice called "hoshaf," a lot of fruits mixed in cold water with Damascus paste of dried dates and apricots. Hungry, anyone?

No matter how a Muslim breaks the fast, everyone agrees it is a special festive month to get together for meals, for fellowship and for praying in congregation at night.

Some dedicated Muslims go further by reading and memorizing the entire Quran, Islam's sacred book. In the end, what a Muslim does during the month of Ramadan is between oneself and God.

Some people have asked me where they can buy Ramadan or Islamic greeting cards.

Muslim holiday cards cannot be found beside Hanukkah or Christmas cards because none have been published yet. If you want to wish well to Muslims, the only Islamic card that I know of is the U.S. Postal Service card with the same design as the 37-cent "Eid" stamp.

Last week, I was fasting when I presented my research paper on Hawaii's Muslims to a live UH audience. It was a challenge for me because it was a hot and humid day.

Before my presentation, a lady asked me, "Would you like some water?" And I said, no, thanks.

Of course, I was dying of thirst.

When I am very thirsty, I use the power of the mind along with patience to resist the temptation to drink water.

I was so involved in talking about my research paper that I did not even think about my hunger or thirst. In the end, I felt empowered for being able to deny my body a few hours of physical pleasures such as food and water, and it makes me appreciate what I have in my life.

Driving between home in Mililani and the Manoa campus is challenging, too.

In hot and humid weather, at the end of a working day, it is tough.

On Wednesday, during the rush hour on the freeway, I tried not to fall asleep at the wheel. I thought, "If only I could drink water!"

I called a friend to talk to so that I would not fall asleep.

The irony is that I became very thirsty from talking for more than 20 minutes on the phone!

Believe it or not, sometimes I even forget that I am fasting. The other day, I scheduled a meeting at a Starbucks shop in the afternoon.

But I had to call back to reschedule. I love coffee. I cannot sit there and not drink the delicious warm white mocha, to smell it and not be able to drink it!

The bottom line is, Ramadan is a time for me to reflect on how can I improve myself, to meditate on what really matters in my life and to learn more about Islam through readings of the Quran.

Ramadan is a blessed month to me, and I welcome it with open arms.

I will miss it once it is over, and look forward to next year's Ramadan.

Mona Darwich is a UH honors student majoring in sociology. She is involved with the Muslim military community on Oahu and the Muslim Association of Hawaii.

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