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Western New York’s long summer days a challenge for Muslims fasting for Ramadan

Fareida H. Yafai doesn’t start to feel the effects until around 4 p.m. daily.

Her eyes get heavy, and the thirst and hunger become noticeable.

“When you’re busy doing other things, you’re not thinking about not drinking and not eating,” said Yafai. “It doesn’t affect me until that witching hour, between 4 and 6 p.m.”

By then, Yafai has been without food and water for 12 hours, and she still has nearly five more hours of abstinence ahead of her.

This is Ramadan in July for Western New York Muslims.

The Islamic holy month rotates annually according to the lunar calendar, and this year it coincides with some of the longest days of the year.

Dawn to sunset during Ramadan, Muslims refrain from any eating and drinking, so these lengthy summer days amount to some heavy-duty fasting.

And the recent spell of hot, humid weather hasn’t made fasting any easier.

“What’s really frustrating now is this ridiculous heat. That’s probably the most difficult part,” said Yafai, a student in the medical billing certificate program at Erie Community College.

Abdul Noman, who runs a Muslim soccer league in Lackawanna for more than 100 youths and adults, said the hot weather has been sapping energy from many of the fasting players.

Temperatures reached into the high 80s or low 90s for five straight days this week. In one instance, a 12-year-old boy had to be provided water, when it appeared he might faint, said Noman.

“If we see somebody is going to be fainting, we will make them drink water,” he said. “We don’t want them to dehydrate.”

For Muslims, Ramadan commemorates when the Angel Gabriel is believed to have revealed the Quran, Islam’s holy book, to the Prophet Muhammad.

It is considered the holiest month of the year. The fasting – which includes abstaining from sexual activity and smoking, as well as food and drink – is believed to cleanse body and soul of impurities.

The fast is broken each night with iftar. Muslims consume dates and water, in the tradition of Muhammad, followed by a regular meal.

The month also includes a heavy emphasis on communal prayer and charity.

The intensity and duration of Muslim fasting sets it apart from other faiths that promote the spiritual benefits of asceticism, including Christianity and Judaism.

“The most frequent question is: ‘Not even water? You can’t drink water?’ ” said Dr. Nasir Khan, a local physician.

Khan acknowledged “some apprehension” at the beginning of each Ramadan about how his body will handle the fast.

“When you get into it, you realize it’s not as bad as you thought it would be,” he said. “Of course you feel thirsty, and your stomach growls, but you realize you are able to do it.”

“I think it’s a mind-over-body game,” he said. “Fasting is supposed to be all about self-control and self-discipline, and you can choose not to exercise that discipline, and you will be even more miserable.”

But Khan said he generally refrains from visiting the lunch room at his workplace during Ramadan, and he lets his colleagues know he’s not trying to avoid them socially.

“They understand,” he said.

A bigger issue these days often is sleep.

Dawn is calculated to begin this morning at about 3:51 a.m., after which no drink or food is to be consumed until sunset at 8:48 p.m.

“Whenever you start seeing the first hint of white light, that’s when you stop eating,” said Dr. Husam A. Ghanim, research assistant professor at the University at Buffalo. “Muslims, even if they’re not religious, they fast.”

Prayer services often last until midnight, and Muslims are encouraged to wake up prior to dawn to consume a meal.

“Whenever you get the chance, you go to sleep,” said Khan, who tries to nap after work for an hour or two. “Probably the number of hours that you spend sleeping is the same or even more. It’s just that it’s interrupted.”

Yafai, who sometimes stays awake between the nighttime prayer and the dawn prayer, usually takes a nap when she hits the wall at 4 p.m.

“Your sleep is definitely off,” she said

But few Muslims complain.

Yafai said she loves being around extended family so often during Ramadan and getting more connected with her faith

“This is my favorite month,” said Ahmed Alhadhari, who operates a downtown convenience store.

Throughout the day, people come into the store for soda, candy bars, coffee and other goodies, but Alhadhari said the readily available temptations don’t bother him.

He’s even able to cut back on coffee and quit cold turkey on cigarettes during Ramadan, he said.

“It’s all a mental thing,” he said. “It doesn’t affect me.”

When Ramadan occurs during the summer, the first few days can be difficult, but “you get used to it,” said Ghanim.

“It’s really easy in the winter. You don’t feel a thing,” he said.

Fasts in December and January can be less than 11 hours.

This Ramadan, the fast gets a little shorter each day. On July 9, the first day, dawn was at 3:35 a.m. and sunset at 8:55 p.m. Dawn will begin at 4:20 p.m. on Aug. 6, the final day, with sunset at 8:29 p.m.

Next year, the fasts will be even longer, as Ramadan begins 11 days earlier.

Yafai points out that the long days now in Western New York are nothing compared with the 20 to 21 hours of daylight that Muslims in some Scandinavian countries experience.

The heat isn’t really so much of an issue, either.

“We have so many luxuries afforded to us, like central air,” she said.