The celebration has been held every night since Aug. 11 at the Northern Nevada Muslim Community Center (NNMCC) on Oddie Boulevard in Sparks. The feast is a part of Ramadan, an Islamic religious celebration observed around a lunar calendar.
For Muslims, the month-long celebration centers around a fasting schedule determined by the sunrise and sunset. NNMCC board of directors member and University of Nevada, Reno business professor Rafik Beekun said the fast is meant to focus the religion’s followers and let them reflect and meditate.
“First you have to remember we follow a lunar calendar with Islam, fasting takes place during the month of Ramadan,” Beekun said. “It lasts basically from dawn to sunset in which time Muslims that fast cannot eat or drink and they also cannot have sexual relations during that time.”
When Ramadan began on Aug. 11, followers would begin fasting — imsak — at about 4:45 a.m. and break their fast — iftar — after 8 p.m. When Ramadan ends on Sept. 9, imsak begins at about 5:20 a.m. and iftar after is after 7:15 p.m.
“Fasting is also abstaining from other types of behaviors, such as slandering people, talking bad about people,” Beekun said. “So fasting in Islam is quite comprehensive. It is basically the hunger and the thirst and then abstaining from other issues.”
Beekun explained that there are exceptions to the fasting, although every man and woman following Islam is supposed to observe Ramadan’s fast. He said pregnant women, children, people who are ill and the elderly can postpone their fast or make it up by helping others.
“My son is in the military, and when he was off the coast of Iraq, it was very, very hot,” Beekun said. “So, he is allowed — and people who are engaged in hard work — they can postpone their fast. My son could fast anytime after the month of Ramadan until the next Ramadan.
“When you are waking up at 4 a.m., you have to eat and drink and you have to stop at about 4:45 p.m. and you cannot eat or drink until about 8:45 p.m.,” Beekun added about time frame of fasting. “I image for other people, say someone who is construction, people who are doing very hard work, they can postpone the fasting for say a cooler day or a weekend.”
For people who might not be able to fast later, Beekun said Islam requests that they help feed someone less fortunate.
“The only people who must feed the people who are needy are the people who are eldery or the sick people, whose health condition is such that they cannot make up their fast,” Beekun said.
Although the absence of food and drink to many would sound intolerable, Beekun said other religions including Christianity and Judaism also observe fasts in different manners.
“In most major faiths, there is something that asks people to engage in a religious experience and at the same time that they are asked to relate to people who might not have as much,” Beekun said. “It kind of binds us together.”
In Islam, fasting is one of fiver pillars followers observe, including accepting the Prophet Muhammad a God’s messenger, prayer, alms-giving (charity) and pilgrimage.
“Fasting for us is of multiple dimensions,” Beekun said. “The first is a spiritual dimension. The second is atonement. Fasting isn’t so much refraining from food, but being mindful of God.”
Being mindful of God also means helping others in the community, Beekun said of Islam.
“There are so many people who are lacking in this world, there are people who do not know what they will eat at the end of the day,” Beekun said. “ Islam wants people to empathize with them.
“At the mosque, we break fast every night and we invite everyone Muslim and non-Muslim to break fast with us,” Beekun added.
During Ramadan, Muslims are asked to do charity work and to help others, Beekun said this could mean working or starting a soup kitchen or doing other forms of volunteer work to help the community.
“It is especially during the month of Ramadan, our fasting is not accepted unless we pay that form of charity,” Beekun said. “We try our best during the month of Ramadan to practice charity, charity is for everybody. Everybody who is in need, we will try to help.”
At the NNMCC a collection is being held for canned and nonperishable food items to be donated to the Food Bank of Northern Nevada, Beekun said.
“We are so blessing in American,” Beekun said. “We have three square meals a day. There are so many countries in the world with people that maybe only have one meal a day.”
At the end of Ramadan, which includes additional pray times and readings of the Q’uran, Muslims celebrate Eid. Beekun said it is a large celebration, possibly comparable to Thanksgiving or Christmas, in which people invite family and friends to come together for meals and to exchange gifts.
“For Eid, the month of fasting is over,” Beekun said “We hope and pray that out fasting is accepted.
“Here in Nevada, we typically will go to a restaurant somewhere as a congregation,” Beekun added. “We have prayer in the morning at about 7:30 at the Islamic center and then have a breakfast together.”
The Muslim community in northern Nevada will observe Ramadan through Sept. 9. Beekun encourages people to join in the nightly feast at NNMCC located at 1857 Oddie Blvd. in Sparks.
“It is very a multicultural dinner,” Beekun said, adding even American food is served. “(On Wednesday), we had a dutch cook.”
For more information about the center, prayer times and Ramadan, visit www.nnmcc.org.