Ramadan is underway and for the estimated thousands of Muslims in southwestern Connecticut who observe the sacred Islamic month of fasting, that means no food and no drinks, not even water, between sunrise and sunset each day for 30 days.
On August 1, the first day of Ramadan, that was a 14-hour, 20-minute stretch.
By August 29, the expected final day of Ramadan this year (the actual day is fixed when the new crescent moon is first sighted in the sky), the days will have shortened, so the period for fasting will be only 13 hours and 13 minutes.
But by August 2, the second day of Ramadan, Hafiz Haqqani Main Qadri, Iman of the Stamford Islamic Center, insisted he had already entered a spiritual zone in which he neither hungered nor thirsted as the long, hot afternoon wore on.
“I believe in the spirituality of the fast,” Iman Qadri told Patch while seated on the porch of the congregation’s makeshift mosque at 10 Outlook Street as it was being fitted with new air conditioners in time for evening prayers. (On adjoining land, the congregation is building Fairfield County’s first mosque from the ground up, complete with arches and a minaret, an ambitious project Qadri hopes will be completed by 2013.)
Ramadan is a centuries-old tradition, handed down from the prophet Muhammed through the Koran, the Muslims’ Bible, to intensify spiritual reflection through an extended period of fasting.
Fasting is a case of mind over matter and, for observant Muslims, it carries rewards.
Farhan Memon, an internet entrepreneur, who helps lead the Al-Madany Islamic Center of Norwalk, shared this saying, or hadith, attributed to Muhammed commonly recited to motivate observers of Ramadan:
Whoever faces the month of Ramadan with faith, and seeks God’s pleasure and reward, will have his previous sins forgiven.
The path to forgiveness calls for self-restraint, self-discipline, patience and submission to the perceived will of God.
Iman Qatar volunteered how he copes with the gustatory demands of his faith.
Eleven months of the year, he said, he has a breakfast of bagels and tea and a lunch at noon.
During Ramadan, morning begins for him with a simple breakfast at 4 a.m. of pharatha (an unleavened fried bread) and two eggs, washed down with a big cup of tea and two glasses of water.
“I pray to God to give me strength as we are observing a fast today,” he said. Iman Qatar offers five prayers every day at the Islamic Center, set for August 3 at 4:24 a.m., 1:01 p.m., 6:02 p.m. 8:09 and 9:38. Times vary daily according to the phase of the moon and prayer times are punctual.
Once the sun has set - at 8:11 or so these early August days – the fast is broken with the sharing of dates, a short prayer and a longer prayer that involves the Iman’s recitation of a chapter of the 1,000-page Koran each evening.
Iman Qatar delivers each recitation from memory – he memorized the entire sacred text at the age of nine growing up in Pakistan.
“Last night, my prayer was to pray for others first, yourself later,” he said, “I pray for peace, love, affection, embracing each other.”
In his evening prayer, the Iman may also touch upon current topics.
“I told the congregation we are very fortunate to be here in the U.S.A. This is our country,” he continued. “We will be buried here. We must be loyal and patriotic to this great land.”
As he spoke, he exchanged greetings with a member of the congregation with the words “Assalamualaikum” (“Peace be upon you”) and “Walaykumsalam” (“Upon you also the peace”).
Dressed all in white in a tunic (kurta) and pants (shalwar), with open-toed sandals on his feet, Qatar related how he had been a journalist in Karachi and earned a Ph.D. in Islamic culture before coming to the U.S. nearly 20 years ago. He’s presently earning a second Ph.D. over the internet, focusing on women’s rights and the Koran.
In Norwalk, the Al-Madany Islamic Center, which is going through a zoning approval process to operate its own mosque, has rented the community hall of the Christ Episcopal Church for four successive Saturday evening banquets during Ramadan.
Both Norwalk and Stamford groups participate in inter-faith events in their communities and make a point to invite elected officials to participate in their Ramadan events.
Norwalk’s Mayor Richard Moccia has attended in the past and hopes he can this year as well.
“We should all respect the religious customs and traditions of other peace-loving people,” Maiocco remarked.
Then-Mayor Dannel Malloy was a particular favorite at the Stamford Islamic Center’s Ramadan affairs in the past.
“Governor Malloy has always been an ardent supporter,” said Talay Hafiz, president of the Stamford center. The Governor is invited to attend Eid-al-Fitre, the festive banquet held at the end of Ramadan, Hafiz said.
Throughout the Ramadan observance, cultural traditions will be strictly followed. Men and women will worship and eat separately. (Exemptions from fasting are granted to the young, the elderly, the ill, travelers and lactating women.)
For those unable to spend hours over a hot stove preparing traditional Ramadan fare, a Westport entrepreneur, Adnan Durroni, has come up with a solution.
Durroni has started a company to market a new food brand, Saffron Road, which certifies its frozen meat entrees are halal. (The certification denotes that the animals have been treated humanely and received a blessing before slaughter.)
Whole Foods and natural foods establishments in the area have stocked the lamb and chicken-based entrees in time for Ramadan.
“They can be tossed right in the micro-wave,” Durroni said in his Stamford office.
Even traditionalists allow for cultural interpretation.
Here’s a recipe for serving those dates that break the daylong fast, courtesy of Yvonne Maffei, Whole Foods blogger and author of My Halal Kitchen:
Dates with Crème Fraiche, Pistachios and Lemon Zest
3 large Medjool dates
9 whole roasted almonds
3 tablespoons crème fraiche
Lemon or orange zest
Several pistachios, roughly chopped
1. Wash and dry the dates make a clean cut to open the date and remove any pits.
2. Stuff each date with three whole almonds and close it gently with your fingers.
3. On a plate or platter, arrange the dates nicely in a row. Dollop the crème fraiche on top of each one. Finish with lemon or orange zest and chopped pistachios.
4. Serve at room temperature. Serves three.