Long Hot Ramadan
Jerry S. Mendoza  /  AP
Muslim high school athletes, like Fordson High School wide receiver Baquer Sayed, right, in Troy, Mich., will have to endure a longer wait to break their Ramadan fast this year.
updated 8/21/2009 9:57:01 PM ET 2009-08-22T01:57:01

During most of his high school football career, Baquer Sayed broke the Ramadan fast during halftime, when the stadium lights began to flood the field after sundown.

With the traditional sunrise-to-sunset fast set to last a few hours longer this year because of where it falls in the Islamic calendar, the heavily recruited wide receiver at suburban Detroit's Fordson High is going to have to hold out until after the final whistle.

Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, will begin in August for the first time in 33 years this year. Moreover, it will be creeping deeper into summer for each of the next seven years because the Islamic lunar calendar is roughly 11 days shorter than the international solar calendar. That means Muslims in the U.S. face longer, hotter days of religious devotion because of longer, hotter summer days — and that Sayed will play before recruiters on an empty stomach this year.

He hopes it could mean some divine help on the gridiron.

"You'll get rewarded, it'll come back to you in a good way. Hopefully it will come back to me during the game," Sayed, a lanky, 6-foot-3 senior said.

When Muslim-Americans gather Friday night to begin celebrating, they will enter a time of religious devotion including abstention from food, drink, smoking and sex during a time that commemorates the revelation of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad.

Appreciating fasting
Religious leaders see the change in the calendar as an opportunity for increased faithfulness, but worry that participation by the young, interfaith activities and the ramped-up social schedule will suffer because activities will be pushed later into the night.

Religious leaders also believe greater challenges offer a heightened spiritual experience.

"The extended days in the summer really allow you to feel fasting in a more true sense because we live oftentimes, especially in the West, in very cushy lifestyles where we're not really out sweating and feeling the pain of hunger, especially in the winter," said Jihad Turk, director of religious affairs for the Islamic Center of Southern California. "It's really the summer that lets your truly appreciate fasting for what it is. It should be somewhat arduous and uncomfortable and challenging to your daily routine."

At mosques, the change could present scheduling problems. Many mosques use the month of Ramadan as an opportunity to reach out to other faith communities, aiming to foster dialogue about religious issues.

The Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, one of the country's largest mosques, is usually an active participant in such conversations. This year, though, with an evening program beginning at 9:30 p.m., it will be more difficult to schedule interfaith events, said Eide Alawan, head of the mosque's Office of Interfaith Outreach. Alawan said the traditional Islamic lectures that accompany each day of Ramadan will push the program late into the night, making it difficult to schedule talks with rabbis or Christian clergy, for example, as the clock ticks past 10 p.m.

Difficulties for children
Young children will face later bedtimes, which could make attending Ramadan programming difficult. Ponn Sabra, a mother of three from Hamden, Conn., who publishes the blog American Muslim Mom, said while a standard Monday-through-Thursday schedule for attending Ramadan activities at a local mosque may not be possible, families can try to make the most of the weekends.

"I know families here and in Toledo, one family they literally slept (at the mosque) from Friday until Saturday," Sabra said.

While streets in predominantly Islamic nations are packed after sunset with those visiting family and friends, Ramadan in the U.S. means being wide-awake for a 9-to-5 workday in the morning, restricting the month's evening social events.

"That sharing, when you do break the fast, is just as important as the fasting," said Imam Ammar Amonette of the Islamic Center of Virginia in Richmond, Va. "The problem is, of course, the nighttime prayers during Ramadan are lengthy prayers that we do and that's going to go on quite late at night. That's going to be hard for some people without a doubt."

'You just do it'
For young athletes like Sayed, the longer, hotter days re-emphasize another element of the Ramadan season: God's forgiveness. For Muslims who break the fast, they can make up the day any time before Ramadan the next year.

"The hard thing is that there's not really a way to balance it — because when you are thirsty, what are you going to do? How are you going to counter that?" said Umar Issa, 16, a high school senior in Arcadia, Calif., who plays soccer on both school and club teams. "Basically, you just do it. And if you can't do it, God is forgiving."

Fouad Zadan, the head football coach at Fordson, said the struggle will be even more evident during "two-a-days," twice-daily practices that push players to the brink even on a full stomach. In future years, as the holy month creeps closer and closer to summer's peak, the team may be blocking and tackling at night, Zadan said.

"As the days get hotter and longer, and especially at the beginning of the year when you are going through two-a-days, it's probably going to be a lot worse," he said.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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