Over the next month for Noor Khan and her family, mornings will start about 3 a.m., the days will include no food from sunrise to sunset and spiritual development will take center stage.
Khan is among Chicago-area Muslims observing Ramadan, the annual holy month of fasting, which is one of the greatest religious observances in Islam and began with the sighting of the new moon this weekend.
“Amazingly every year I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t know how we do it.’ But once it rolls around, it’s really quite easy because the whole [Muslim] community is fasting, Khan said.
“When we come together and we’re worshipping, we’re all fasting; it’s a feast of the soul,” the Naperville resident and Chicago native said. “We benefit when we sit together and your stomach doesn’t become the center of your social gathering, but God becomes the center of it.”
Khan, the mother of three children, said summer days present a challenge. But her family prepares.
“My kids and I have been fasting prior to Ramadan in order to kind of get ready for the long fast because the [summer days] are very long this year,” she said. “They’ll fast one or two times during the week prior to Ramadan.”
And they’ve focused on drinking lots of water to prepare their bodies, said her husband, Syed Quadri.
Oak Brook resident Shala Khan, 43, labels the fast a spiritual journey, but notes “the first week feels like a very physical journey because your body has to adjust.
“Typically, the kids, they’ll participate in their summer camp activities. It’s still a very, very full day. But we take a little time for ourselves to have a moment where we can catch our breath, maybe have a little siesta in the afternoon or have some quiet time.”
Amid the fasting, “It’s a time to really delve deeper into our faith and to embrace all the beauty and truth that our faith entails and hopefully our endeavor to come out a transformed and more connected individual after Ramadan,” she said.
“In starving the body, you’re nourishing the soul,” and gaining a greater appreciation for one’s blessings, said Imam Hisham AlQaisi of the Islamic Foundation in Villa Park. It’s “akin to the saying of you don’t know what you have until you don’t have it.”
The typical morning during Ramadan at Noor Khan’s home starts with the family rising together. While Khan is preparing the pre-fast meal, called the Suhoor, her husband and children will “take the opportunity to worship, so they will pray and read Quran . . . and then we eat,” she said.
During the day, her daughters go to mosque.
“The girls are part of a program where every day there will be 30 to 50 girls that are all working on the same goal and worshipping together,” she said. “One of the things that we work on throughout the month and we’re really going to try to accomplish this year is finish the whole Quran. For all 30 days, they’ll do 1/30th each day.”
Syed Quadri said his goal this Ramadan is to finish the more than 6,000-verse and 600-plus-page Quran at least twice.
Their 16-year-old daughter Muryem Quadri said “a personal goal for everybody every Ramadan is always to try and better yourself as a human being. You don’t have to worry about what you’re going to eat, so instead worry about how you’re going to act.”
As is typical in many Muslim families, they observe Iftar — the breaking of the daily fast, at sunset with dates and water.
Asked what she finds most spiritually rewarding about Ramadan, Muryem Quadri replied: “Going to the mosque and praying would probably be my No. 1. Usually the person who leads it is very spiritually driven. So kind of like that ambience of being with a whole bunch of people that are striving for something that you’re striving for too. It’s like a collective effort, hundreds of people all packed together, and even though they might be in a little bit of discomfort ’cause it’s hot and sweaty in the middle of summer, they’re all doing it for a greater purpose, and so it’s nice ’cause it’s like a sense of community.”
Charitable giving is a big part of Ramadan, said AlQaisi. During the month, Noor Khan notes her family has donated food and helped package it for needy families, and prepared and served food at soup kitchens and plans to engage in similar activities this year.
“Here at the Islamic Foundation, we do multiple fundraisers for local organizations . . . needy communities, food pantries,” AlQaisi said. “[Muslim] communities really come out strong to give for those causes throughout the year and particularly in Ramadan.”
“When you start to dissociate yourself from the worldly needs and you dissociate yourself from those worldly desires, it’s easier to be more charitable,” he said.