On some of the hottest and most humid days of the year, Muslims in central Pennsylvania will be going without food and drink for about 13 to 14 hours a day.
Beginning Tuesday, the Islamic world will be celebrating Ramadan, one of the five pillars of the faith. (The other four are recognizing that there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his prophet, praying five times a day, giving to the needy and making a pilgrimage to Mecca if possible once in one's life time.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar and it is observed annually by refraining from food, drink and intimate relations from dawn until sundown. This lunar calendar is about 10 to 11 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar so the holy month falls at a different time every year.
(Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec)
Mohammad Kurdi of Altoona reads the Quran at the Islamic Center of Central Pennsylvania in Lakemont. During the month of Ramadan Muslims will fast during daylight hours and concentrate on reading the Quran and prayers. It also is a time to do good deeds for others.
Last year, Ramadan began about July 20 and continued through the Dog Days of August. So the heat and humidity is nothing new to Muslims here.
It moves into the summer slowly, said Mohammad Kurdi of Altoona, so it is not a drastic change from year to year.
"I don't think it is hard at all [to fast during summer's long days]," he said. "On the first day you sometimes get more of a headache because the body is getting accustomed to fasting."
He said Ramadan in the summer takes him back to his childhood in Jordan when watermelon, cheese and bread were common food items served during suhoor (the pre-dawn meal) or iftar (the post-sundown meal).
"But Ramadan is not about food," he said. "I don't think about it. Take it out of the equation."
He said he is much more conscious of God during those 30 days, and it is a time when Muslims are encouraged to do good deeds for others.
"It is a time to listen to God and to be kind to people, to your neighbors," Kurdi said.
Hena Anwar, a student at Penn State University, looks forward to Ramadan as a time when she can concentrate on her faith.
She said Muslims are to think about God, pray more and think about the spiritual aspects of life. As a full-time year-round student, Anwar said her schedule can become full, but Ramadan causes her to pause and read the Quran and pray more.
Abstaining from food is not her the only part of her daily routine she forgoes. She also watches less television and reduces her time listening to music.
She compared the self-discipline to learning to resist temptation.
"Temptations are all around us," she said, noting that even a dieter may have trouble avoiding chocolate cake.
Addressing the heat and long days, Anwar believes they are beneficial.
"When Ramadan is a lot tougher, you get more meaning out of it. You feel more accomplished," she said.
The 22-year-old has been fasting by her own choice since she was 6 years old. Children are not required to fast until the age of puberty.
One of her earliest memories is from the year she was in third grade and Ramadan fell in December.
"Everyone was so excited about Christmas. I had a reason to be excited, too. I felt a connection. It is not the same holiday, but at the end of Ramadan, we have Eid-al Fitr. It is a big holiday and the children get presents. This was my Christmas," she said.
As a young adult, she now finds her non-Muslim friends appreciating her observance to the point that they will fast with her.
"It's so great to have supportive friends," she said.
Away from her Hollidaysburg home for Ramadan, Anwar also can count on her Muslim friends to celebrate with her.
After breaking the fast, she goes to the mosque in State College for prayers when she gets a chance. She said the people at the mosque are friendly and sometimes give the students food to take home.
A place also exists on the University Park campus for Muslim students to gather or break the fast.
"When you reach the end of Ramadan, you are happy," Kurdi said. "You have fulfilled all God's commands. You break the fast and celebrate."