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U Understanding Islam

Giving to God: How Muslims observe Ramadan in Southwest Florida

By Kristine Gill, For Naples News, On 07 June 2016, Read Original
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Followers of Islam pray June 3, 2016 at the Islamic Center of Naples, Fla. About 75 males and 10 females came out to pray and listen to passages read from the Quran during a month of fasting and prayer " Ramadan. The observance commemorates the first revelation given to Muhammad in the Quran. (Corey Perrine/Staff)


Mujib Rahman has prayed in the parking lot of a plaza along U.S. 41 North.

He's prayed in the grassy median outside of a McDonald's while a small crowd of curious passers-by gathered. He's prayed in the Everglades in the middle of a drive home from Miami.

Once, he prayed while a customer at his Marco Island convenience store nearly contemplated dialing 911 after he found Rahman kneeling on the ground, his forehead pressed to a mat.

"The next day he said I'll guard your door for you while you pray," Rahman said, laughing. "Now we're friends."

Muslims stop what they're doing five times a day to pray while facing Mecca. In the mornings and evenings, they usually pray from home. In the afternoons, some will try to leave their jobs and head to the nearest mosques. Others find quiet places at work where they kneel for five to 15 minutes before resuming their duties.

It's a strict schedule made all the more important during Ramadan, which incorporates a month of daily fasting on top of the prayer. The monthlong observance marks the time of year when the Quran, the Muslim holy text, was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.

So not only is Rahman, the imam who leads prayers at the Islamic Center of Naples, pausing throughout the day to turn toward Mecca, he's doing it on an empty stomach.

"When you're hungry and thirsty, you're more in touch with your inner self," he said. "It's a spiritual thing. You learn how it feels to be starving. Starving in places like Africa. Starving just to have a bite."

In other countries where Islam is more widely practiced, it's easier to eat only before the sun rises and after it sets because most people around you are doing it, too. In the United States, it can be difficult. Some Muslims are chefs in restaurants and can't taste-test their dishes during Ramadan. Some teens are in school, trying to get through a day of classes and testing. Others work past sunset when they are allowed to eat but can't take time away from their jobs for a bite.

"It's difficult because 75 to 90 percent of other people here are eating and drinking," Rahman said. "It's out of the norm."

But what Rahman has noticed since he moved here from Pakistan is that employers and those curious passers-by have become more accepting and accommodating toward the culture.

"There used to be less of a presence, but people are becoming more aware," he said.

He has Muslim friends whose employers have made special concessions to allow them the short daily break. A worker at Publix is given a key to a back office for prayer. Another at Panera Bread thought he would have to quit but a manager agreed to allow him two 15 minute breaks in addition to the required 30 just to keep him. Another man whose boss was Jewish so admired his employee's dedication to the religion that he encouraged the practice when he found his worker sneaking into the office basement to kneel on a piece of cardboard.

It's very logical," Rahman said of the growing acceptance. "It doesn't take a lot of time, maybe five to 10 minutes."

Throughout Ramadan, some communities will hold nightly potluck dinners where, after the sun has set, they break their fasts together. At the end of the month, they hold a big celebration at the mosque.

It's not just foods that Muslims must refrain from during Ramadan. The month is also about restraining from all indulgences. They must not smoke; they shouldn't swear. They aren't to have sexual relations throughout the day. And they try not to fight or complain or backbite.

The Quran says this month is one where God is watching closely to see who obeys and who does not. For those who show a genuine dedication, God promises to reward them greatly on the day of judgment at his own discretion.

"The rewards are fixed year round until this month," Rahman said. "Then God says, 'It's up to me.' "



 Mohammad Usman, President of the Islamic Center of Naples, speaks to the congregation June 3, 2016 at the Islamic Center of Naples, Fla.

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