Muslims will be setting their alarm clocks to get up before dawn tonight.
Ramadan, the month of fasting from sunrise to sunset, begins at dusk today. That means no breakfast unless the meal is eaten before the sun peeks over the horizon.
Hena Anwar, 18, of Hollidaysburg is one of the teens whose feet will hit the floor when the alarm goes off. She has a big day ahead of her. Hena is a freshman at Penn State University and will be moving her belongings into her dorm room Saturday.
Once she settles in, she won't have to worry about her roommate suggesting they go downtown for dinner before the sun goes down. Her roommate also is a Muslim and Hena is anticipating they will support one another as they observe the 30 days of fasting away from home for the first time.
She said they will get together with other Muslim students to pray and break the fast in the evenings.
Hena's sister, Leena, 19, is a sophomore at Penn State Altoona and commutes from home. She does not have to be concerned about dorm friends wanting to go to lunch; however, she faces another challenge. Leena works at the Port-Sky Cafe on campus.
"I'll be working behind a grill," she said. She will be smelling and preparing food while refraining from eating and drinking for about 14 hours of daylight every day for a month.
For high school students, the first day of classes Aug. 31 means no lunch with friends in the cafeteria for 14 school days.
Urwa Siddiqui, 13, of Duncansville and Naaila Ali, 13, of Hollidaysburg are eighth-graders at Hollidaysburg Area Junior High School. They explain the importance of the fast to their friends and are able to go the library or an empty classroom instead of watching others eat.
Masad Siddiqui, 15, of Duncansville does not consider it a problem.
"My friends know what is going on. They are pretty up to date," he said.
He said it was more difficult when his family lived in Philadelphia, and he could smell food in the streets.
"It was kind of hard," he said.
He also remembers being a young child in Pakistan where the whole commun- ity fasted. He said restaurants and street vendors offered no food until sundown. Cousins and other relatives gathered at his family home in the evening.
But Ramadan is much more than fasting.
"It's a time to overcome temptation," Hena said. "Even if you get hungry, you say no to food. You are doing this for Allah."
Ramadan, the ninth month on the Islamic calender, is when the Quran was revealed to Prophet Muhammad, Naaila said.
During the month, Muslims concentrate on reading the Quran and getting together for prayers.
"Ramadan is when Muslims detach themselves from the material objects of life. We don't watch too much TV or indulge in entertainment," Hena said.
"While fasting, one is not allowed to lie or show anger or else your fast is broken," Leena said.
She and Hena said the fasting helps them empathize with the poor who often go hungry.
It also is a month of spiritual self-purification and spiritual growth.
"During fasting, I feel that I am more connected to Allah because if I ever get hungry or forget that I can't eat, I remember that I am doing this for my God," Hena said.
At the end of Ramadan, local Muslims celebrate with a feast called Eid al-Fitr at the Islamic Center of Central Pennsylvania, 703 Logan Blvd.
"It's like Christmas," Naaila said. "We get gifts, candy, dress up and there is so much food."
Because it is not a national holiday, the high school students try to get assignments in advance if Eid al-Fitr falls on a school day.
College student Leena said it is hard to miss class, especially if it's a lab.
Last year, she went to classes and then joined the community in celebrating Eid al-Fitr. This year, the observance is Sept. 20, a Sunday.
Hena will end her first fast away from family by coming home from Penn State to join the celebration