Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Ramadan on Summer Solstice: The Longest Day of Fasting

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Ramadan on Summer Solstice: The Longest Day of Fasting

Article excerpt

3:35 a.m.

Safiye Snow sets out a serving dish as her husband, Philip, and their two older children gather at the dining room table of their Central North Side rowhouse.

It's still dark outside when they begin what Muslims call the suhur, or pre-fast meal. They eat ample, but not too filling, portions of scrambled eggs, toast and halal (religiously permissible) beef bacon. Everyone drinks plenty of water.

It will be the last that they consume for another 16 hours and 44 minutes. As Muslims observing their holy month of Ramadan, they abstain from food and water from first light to sundown. Doing so is especially challenging on the summer solstice. Not only is it going to be the longest day of sunlight in the year, it is also forecast to be one of the hottest, with predictions of 89 degrees by late afternoon. Ramadan, as a lunar month, moves about 11 days earlier each year, and this is one of only three in a generation when it overlaps the solstice.

Despite the darkness outside, the home glows with gold, red and green garland lights strung throughout. Safiye said that despite the rigors of Ramadan, she likes to keep things festive for the kids.

The couple's younger two children are asleep. Children under 15 can be exempt from fasting, as can those who are elderly or sick. The two older children - son Daniel, 13, and daughter Maysa, 11 - are already keeping the fast.

4:08 a.m.

Philip, 54, asks Safiye, 42, to fill his cup one more time. He quickly gulps down the last water he will have until nearly 9 p.m.

Philip and Safiye are converts to Islam, which makes them a minority within a minority, according to Philip. They were both born and raised in the U.S. Philip said when he first learned about the faith from a Muslim man, his heart converted immediately. But only after several years of study did he formally profess the faith.

Since the vast majority of Muslims in the United States are either immigrants or African-Americans, the family, who is white, doesn't directly share the experience of their Muslim brothers and sisters, nor does it entirely connect with American society at large, Philip said.

"We've stepped out of our culture and left our families to an extent."

4:10 a.m.

All drinking and eating ends.

Ramadan, Philip said, is "a spiritual tune-up once a year, where the entire day is organized to put God first."

Fasting is only part of it. The family also stays up through the night, spending much of it studying the Quran, while catching snatches of sleep during the day.

Philip owns his own business and the children are home-schooled, making it easier to accommodate their schedules.

Observing Ramadan is one of five main "pillars" that all Muslims strive to practice. Others involve a profession of faith, five daily prayers, charity and pilgrimage. …

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