New York Times: Muslim Fast in U.S. Holds Difficulties

Posted on September 2, 2008


Note from Rafik Beekun: This is an older article, but the issues it raises are still similar to those by American Muslims today.


During Ramadan, the holy month that began with the new moon this week, Muslims abstain from food and drink from dawn to dark. In many Islamic countries, this means that restaurants close throughout the day, governments and businesses trim working hours, children leave school early and people take daytime naps to stay awake for nighttime meals.

But for the Muslim minority in the United States, Ramadan must be observed amid fast-food outlets, coffee breaks and 9-to-5 working hours. Some find that the non-Muslim environment adds to the physical difficulty of keeping the monthlong fast — but also to the spiritual rewards.

“In the Middle East you are in a sea of people who are all observing Ramadan,” said Omar Abunamous, a Palestinian who came to the United States from Kuwait 12 years ago. “Here everyone is carrying on normally, eating and drinking.”

By “everyone,” he was referring to the vast non-Muslim majority. Fasting in a Restaurant

The fasting can be especially difficult for observant Muslims like Mr. Abunamous’s son, who is a cashier in a restaurant. “I don’t envy his situation,” Mr. Abunamous said. “All day he is surrounded by customers who come to eat and drink.”

Some Muslims, however, say that observing Ramadan is no different here than in an Islamic country.

“It’s the same food, the same moon, the same everything,” said Amin Awad, who emigrated from Jerusalem in 1957 and now owns the Haifa Halal Meat store on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn. “God is here; God is everywhere. You could practice your duties toward God anywhere. If anyone gives excuses, that’s another story.”

Dr. Najma Sultana, a child psychiatrist and assistant clinical professor at the State University Health Sciences Center in Brooklyn, said Ramadan made it “very hectic to carry out your professional responsibilities.” “It interferes with your energy and your concentration,” said Dr. Sultana, who came this country from India in 1973. But she added, “We get a lot of strength from the spiritual side of it.” [more]