Muslims fast from before dawn until past sunset during Ramadan, the holy month that starts Saturday this year. Not even water is allowed.
But that's only part of the story.
"Non-Muslims tend to view the denial as hardship," said Dr. Asma Mobin-Uddin, an Ohio pediatrician and author who is also president of the state chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations.
"They see the challenges and struggle of not eating and drinking, but the perspective in the Muslim community is totally the opposite. It's not just fasting. It's trying to be the best person you can be. It's a beautiful time."
Explaining Muslim-American life is a mission for Mobin-Uddin. She wrote a children's book, "My Name Is Bilal," about an American Muslim boy worried about being accepted by his grade school classmates, and a second, "The Best Eid Ever," about a family observing Eid al-Adha, the biggest holiday of the Muslim year.
Her latest, "A Party in Ramadan," is about a girl invited to a classmate's party during the month. Already recognized with a 2009 Parents Choice award, the book was, like the others, written to fill a void, with Mobin-Uddin's own three children in mind.
"I didn't see a book that conveys the experience of Ramadan and fasting from the standpoint of a kid," she said.
"I wanted to share the beauty, the joy and the blessings of fasting. Kids like to participate. I wasn't seeing that in books about the holiday."
Mobin-Uddin, 42, has been explaining Islam to a wider community since childhood in her native Marion, an hour north of Columbus, where her parents, both physicians, emigrated from Pakistan. ..
"For many Muslims, it is their favorite month of the year," Mobin-Uddin said, "because there's such a sense of mercy, charity and generosity. You try not to be angry or argue. It's such a time of giving, everybody has their fund-raisers in Ramadan."
About 60,000 Muslims live in Greater Cleveland, according to Julia Shearson of the local CAIR chapter. Many will visit the area's 13 mosques for nightly prayers, and most will gather to feast, breaking their daily fasts with dates and water.
The communal celebration is part of the appeal of Ramadan, which otherwise "has such an interior spiritual dimension," Shearson said. "No one else knows you're fasting. It's done out of humility and to help us feel thankful that every drop of water comes from the creator. It's a recharging of the spiritual batteries." (More)