Fasting from sunrise to sunset for 30 days, as Muslims begin doing early next week to mark the Islamic month of Ramadan, is never easy. But some years are harder than others.
That's because Islam's lunar calendar guarantees that, over a 33-year cycle, Ramadan will occur in winter, spring, summer and fall. The holy month, which falls about 11 days back on Western Gregorian calendars each year, is now trending toward the heart of summer, when daylight is longer and temperatures are higher.
This year, fasting will last about 14 1/2 hours in New Jersey, from about 5 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., when Ramadan starts early next week. When it falls in late June, during the longest of days, fasting can last 17 hours. Still, it is widely noticed in Muslim communities that lengths of daily fasts are creeping up after a decade and a half of winter and fall observances. Fasts in late December last about 11 hours.
"Ramadan is quickly drifting into summer," said Imam Raouf Zaman, who mentioned it in a sermon last week at the Muslim Center of Middlesex County in Piscataway. "This is one of those years. For the entire month of September we'll be fasting. The days are quite long."
Fasting during Ramadan, whenever it falls, is one of Islam's five pillars of faith. Besides the daylight prohibition against eating, drinking and sex, Muslims increase their charitable giving and gather for recitations of the Quran, which Muslims believe was revealed to the prophet Muhammad during Ramadan 14 centuries ago.
"It's a blessed month," said Abdullaah Attiyeh, of Piscataway. "The people from the past -- the prophet (Muhammad) and the companions -- they had to do this, and they did it in Arabia, where the sun was very hot. And they didn't complain."
Muslims do talk about it, though.
Jim Sues, 53, a coffee-drinker who converted to Islam 13 years ago, said it took him a few years to learn how much coffee to drink during Ramadan. The South Orange man generally has half a cup before dawn, not too much that he can't get back to sleep but enough to keep him alert later and from getting a headache.
Each day before fasting, "I have a whole-wheat cereal and some yogurt," said Sues, who is executive director of the New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "I typically do have some Gatorade to help with the dehydration."
When he converted, Ramadan was in February, with much shorter fasts, he said.
"The sun would set at 4:30 p.m.," he said. "There were some brothers saying, 'This isn't fasting, this is late lunch!' A lot of Muslims here are from another part of the world, closer to the equator, where there isn't such a swing between earlier sunsets in December and later sunsets in June." (MORE)