As the unrelenting heat continues to be felt in the region, local Muslims are refraining from food and water during the daylight hours for 30 days.
They are observing the holy month of Ramadan which began Monday and requires them to refrain from drinking or eating between sunrise and sunset.
Observing the fast is one of the five pillars of Islam, and refusing to do so is considered a sin, said Dr. Mohammad Dowlut, a family doctor of internal medicine at Lakemont Medical Center.
"If you don't fast and you are in good health, you'll be punished by God on the day of judgment. It's a requirement and you have to do it. You do it not for Islam, but for God," Dowlut said.
Muslims follow a lunar calendar and Ramadan falls during August this year. During the month, Muslims will fast about 16 hours a day, but Dowlut said this should not be a health concern for healthy people.
People with medical concerns, such as diabetes or pregnant women, are exempt from fasting, as are children who are not of puberty age.
Dowlut said fasting can be healthy for people by cleansing their bodies; even non-Muslims should fast occasionally for medical reasons.
"The benefit from fasting is tremendous medically. Everyone is supposed to fast for one day a week," Dowlut said.
Not only do people lose weight while fasting, but good cholesterol increases.
"Fasting is not difficult," Dowlut said. "You might be thirsty, but nothing terrible. It's harder when it's hot but it's a mental attitude."
In the Quran, God tells Muslims that he does not wish to put hardship on anyone by fasting; that was not the intention, Dowlut said.
"You'll be amazed at what a human mind can accomplish," Shamsa Anwar, spokeswoman for the Islamic Center of Central Pennsylvania in Altoona said. "It's all about restraint."
Ibrahim Badmus, 26, who is earning a master's degree at St. Francis University, agrees. He was raised in Chicago in a Muslim family, and he began fasting in sixth grade.
"I've been doing it for a while. I don't see it as a much of a challenge," Badmus said.
Many Muslims usually wake up before the sun rises to eat their first meal of the day. Badmus said he doesn't eat a particularly large meal in the morning.
"You basically have a meal before you start fasting. Some people need hydration and drink a lot of water. I, myself, I just have a regular meal like breakfast and pray before the sun comes up and start the day," Badmus said. "You have your normal meal. You don't really eat in excess or anything. There's nothing in particular you should eat."
After the sun sets, Muslims break the fast with friends and family traditionally by eating dates, although any food is acceptable.
"When the sun is down, you can eat normally. I don't really overeat or anything like that, just normally," Badmus said.
Like Badmus, most Muslims do not change their daily routines during Ramadan.
Because Badmus is on summer break, he is spending a couple of weeks in Chicago. He enjoys returning home during the holy month because he can spend time with family and friends who understand the Muslim practices.
While attention is placed on fasting, Ramadan is much more than that, Anwar said.
"Something very sacred, something very blessed happens. You don't even think about these things," Anwar said. "It looks like the emphasis is on eating. ... It's the spirit itself. The emphasis is not so much on food. It's more on worship. You feel a kind of tranquility descend over yourself when you fast and you pray. You are doing something good and you want to do more."
It is also a time of charity and good will, Anwar said. The Quran is read more frequently because the Holy Book was revealed during the month of Ramadan, she said.
"Satan is chained during Ramadan. He is not able to persuade. It's the month of blessing," Anwar said.
On the last day of Ramadan, which will be Aug. 31, Muslims celebrate Eid ul-Fitr, a holy festival.
"When the month ends, it is a feeling of sadness, but we are so happy that we are able to accomplish one of the basic requirements of our religion," Anwar said.