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News: Holy Days

Muslims mark Ramadan's month of purification

By Saleha N. Ghani · November 10th, 2004 · News
Like thousands of Muslims throughout Greater Cincinnati, Ya-ya and Alice Marqawi of Over-the-Rhine are observing the holy month of Ramadan.

The ninth month of the lunar Islamic calendar, Ramadan began Oct. 15 when the crescent moon appeared. From sunrise to sunset for the next 30 days, Muslims fast, abstaining from food, water and physical intimacy.

A day during Ramadan for the Marqawi family begins before dawn, when they wake up to prepare food. The couple converted to Islam seven years ago and usually visit the mosque on Clifton Avenue.

"After Daylight Savings, we have been waking up before 5:30 a.m. to prepare the food," Alice Marqawi says. "We always try to get plenty of protein in the morning, and eat as much as we can. When we don't, the 12-hour fast is much tougher."

A short prayer follows breakfast, and the Marqawis try to take a nap before work.

"Throughout the day, it is important to keep your mind clear of impure thoughts, to remember how fortunate we are that God has blessed us with so much and to pray for those in need," Ya-ya Marqawi says.

Weekdays can be tough, he says, because he's the only Muslim at his workplace. He has talked with his co-workers about Ramadan; they're understanding when he leaves early to be able to be home for iftar, when it's time to break the fast.

"My co-workers are wonderful and very interested in Ramadan," he says. "It's hard to explain that fasting is not as strict as it may seem. (Ramadan) is a beautiful time for Muslims. We purify our bodies and souls through extensive prayer and soul-searching."

After work, Marqawi goes home and helps his wife, who works part-time, prepare a meal for iftar. The fast is broken with a date, a tradition dating to Prophet Muhammad's time.

"That's what is so beautiful about Islam," Marqawi says. "Tradition calls to break the fast with a date, a fruit that is sweet and gives you a boost of energy. Its simple tradition or recommendation from the prophet shows me that God really is looking out for me."

'My favorite time'
After dinner, Alice and Ya-ya Marqawi say their evening prayers and relax.

Later in the evening, Muslims have the opportunity to go to tarweeh, which takes place every night in Ramadan after the fifth and final prayers of the day. During tarweeh the holy book, Quran, is recited.

A common belief holds that the first verses of the Quran were revealed through Prophet Muhammad during Ramadan. By the end of the 30 days, a Muslim who has attended tarweeh every night has read the entire Quran.

Alice Marqawi works most nights.

"We haven't made it to the mosque in the evenings as much as we'd like to," she says.

More than 10,000 Muslims in Cincinnati have been following this routine for almost a month. But despite the strong community, Ramadan in a non-Muslim country can be tough.

University of Cincinnati graduate student Abdul Jilani is spending his first Ramadan in a non-Muslim country.

"Not everybody here is fasting," he says. "In Pakistan, the entire country changes the daily routine during (Ramadan), but here we have to make a lot of adjustments that not very many others need to make."

His wife, Fawziah, who has lived in the United States for several years, is used to the different atmosphere.

"It was definitely tough the first few years," she says. "Not very many people are in the spirit of Ramadan, but eventually I got to know other Muslims and was able to attend iftar parties."

A lot of people have misconceptions about Islam and Ramadan, Fawziah Jilani says.

"The hardest thing is that something that I find so purifying and enriching others in America just don't understand," she says. "It's my favorite time of the year, no matter what country I am in. I just have to find the strength to be patient."

Fasting is not a punishment from Allah (the Arabic word for God), she says.

Exceptions for fasting including having to take medication, old age, having the flu, being on your period, nursing or carrying a child. Those who cannot fast are recommended to help arrange food for family members who are fasting, as well as feed the poor.

No gimmicks
Ramadan is more than just fasting, according to Ya-ya Marqawi. During this month, Muslims believe that God has chained Satan so he can't influence their thoughts.

"For every bad deed you do during Ramadan, the punishment is much harsher, but for every good deed you do -- which is anything from opening the door for someone to helping the needy -- the rewards are multiplied," Marqawi says. "Ramadan is about purifying yourself and bringing yourself back down to earth. We spend so much time with our heads way high up in the air, forgetting to be thankful to Allah for every crumb on our plate, forgetting the millions of people in the world who would do anything to be where we are, where I am."

Ramadan culminates with Eid ul-Fitr, a celebration that includes prayer, family, friends, gifts and a lot of food. "Eid" is the Arabic word for a recurring event, and "ul-Fitr" refers to the break of the fasting period. This year Eid is Nov. 13-14.

Thousands of Muslims gather at mosques in Over-the-Rhine, Clifton and West Chester for Eid prayers. The rest of the day is spent giving hugs and kisses, saying "Eid Mubarak," which means, "blessed Eid."

"The great thing about it is that there are people from different backgrounds," Alice Marqawi says. "So the Africans will be wearing our traditional clothing and so will the Arabs, Pakistanis and so many others. It's a very colorful day."

The day is spent eating, visiting and exchanging gifts.

"But it's important to remember the needy and the needs of the community in the midst of all of the celebration," Ya-ya Marqawi says.

Before and after Eid prayer, everyone is asked to make donations to support the mosque.

"That's what makes Eid (so different) from Christmas," Marqawi says. "There are no marketing gimmicks and we really, truly focus on what we have that others don't. There are no giving trees, we just give as much as possible. Sure, we give the kids a present in the spirit of celebration, but it's not this big exchange like Christmas is."

Eid is about wearing one's best clothes, spending time with family and friends and celebrating the end of a holy and wonderful month, Alice Marqawi says.

"I am grateful to Allah for this month," she says. "We are blessed with so much and we have an opportunity to share our wealth with everyone through prayer, fasting and celebration." ©



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