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Muslims observe a month of reflection

Ramadan's holy days are marked by fasting, prayer, giving up bad habits

By Eleanor Yang Su

Union-Tribune Staff Writer

2:00 a.m. August 22, 2009

 Muslim worshippers pray during services yesterday afternoon on the eve of Ramadan at the Islamic Center of San Diego. For 29 days, they will try to give up their bad habits from dawn to sunset. (Eduardo Contreras / Union-Tribune) -

Imam AbdelJalil Mezgouri addressed his congregation at the Islamic Center of San Diego. Mezgouri said fasting helps him empathize with those less fortunate. (Eduardo Contreras / Union-Tribune)

UCSD doctoral student Juliann Saquib says Ramadan is “about eliminating the busyness of life, spending time at home, visiting relatives and doing good deeds.”


The Islamic holy month in which Muslims refrain from eating, drinking and sex from dawn until sunset to purify their spirit and learn empathy, patience and gratitude.

Ramadan takes place during the ninth month of the lunar calendar, when the first verses of the Qur'an were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.

When Juliann Saquib begins observing her first Ramadan today, the focus will be on what she gains, not what she gives up.

Granted, like other observant Muslims, Saquib must abstain from eating and drinking during daylight hours. But she will concentrate on self-reflection, prayer and family.

“A lot of the news articles about Ramadan focus on the food and fasting, but what I'm looking forward to is having more awareness of God,” said Saquib, 29, a University of California San Diego doctoral student. “It's about eliminating the busyness of life, spending time at home, visiting relatives and doing good deeds. It's about the heart and soul of life.”

Tens of thousands of San Diego Muslims will observe Ramadan. For 29 days, they will try to give up their bad habits from dawn to sunset, roughly 14 hours during the summer. Many will avoid smoking, fighting and swearing.

In the days leading up to Ramadan, Saquib spent extra time praying, attending a class on the holy month, and picking up library books about Islam at the Islamic Center of San Diego.

The center, located in Clairemont, buzzed with activity during the week. A steady stream of Muslims stopped by to pray and buy dates at the small grocery next to the mosque. Dates are typically eaten to break the fast each night, because it is believed the prophet Muhammad followed the practice.

Ramadan is considered one of the holiest times of the year for Muslims because it's when the first verses of the Qur'an were revealed to Muhammad.

The start of Ramadan varies every year because it's based on the lunar calendar, and moves up by about 10 days annually. Summer days pose a particular challenge because of the longer daylight hours and hotter weather.

But that doesn't scare Osama Mezgouri, 10, who is hoping to observe the fast for the entire month, for the first time.

For the past couple years, Osama has tried to fast for one or two days during Ramadan. He's an early starter — Muslims who haven't reached puberty are not required to fast. But Osama says he's excited to follow the example of his older sister and parents.

“This year I'm going to try to do the whole month, like everyone else,” Osama said. For his good deed, Osama is planning to give $100 — about 10 weeks' worth of his allowance — to the mosque's charity box, which helps support poor members.

Osama's father, AbdelJalil Mezgouri, is an imam at the Islamic Center who also began observing Ramadan when he was 10.

Mezgouri says fasting helps him empathize with those less fortunate.

“I can't talk to you about poor people or hungry people, unless I go through the experience,” Mezgouri said. “When we fast, there's a connection.”

Another benefit, he said, is that such self-restraint builds confidence and character.

“If you have to wake up at 4:30 for breakfast, instead of 7, you've changed your routine,” Mezgouri said. “If you do that for a month, it's a great accomplishment. This is how you get rid of bad habits.”

Of course, Mezgouri said, he will not push his son if the boy is feeling weak or very hungry.

The same is true for Osama's young peers at the Islamic School of San Diego, which is housed in the Islamic Center.

Principal Sharifa Abukar estimates about half the 155 children attending the private school will observe Ramadan. Once classes start later this month, teachers will modify instruction and activities to help students get the most out of the holy month.

For example, instead of running on an outdoor track for P.E., students may walk on hot days, or practice aerobics indoors. And teachers will not assign homework during Ramadan, so students have extra time to read the Qur'an and attend special nightly prayers at the mosque.

“Ramadan is such a community event,” Abukar said. “When young people want to take part, we encourage them. But we also want to protect them, and make sure they're not doing something they're not ready for.”




Eleanor Yang Su: (619) 542-4564;




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