The alarm clock on Samii Khalidi's nightstand buzzes several hours earlier than normal. As a practicing Muslim, Khalidi awakes to eat before dawn, in observance of the Islamic month of Ramadan.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar and the third of the five Islamic pillars of faith. During Ramadan, Khalidi, along with Muslims throughout the world, refrains from eating, drinking, smoking, speaking negatively of others or engaging in sexual activities while the sun is up.
"The reason we observe Ramadan is that we believe it was during this time that the prophet Muhammad received the Quran," said Khalidi. Because it is one of the five pillars of Islam, participation in Ramadan is obligatory for all Muslims.
According to the Quran, during the time of Ramadan, "One may eat and drink at any time during the night, until you can plainly distinguish a white thread from a black thread by daylight; then keep the fast until night."
Khalidi's daily routine varies greatly during the month of Ramadan.
"In addition to waking up super-early, your diet and schedule completely changes," she said. "You pay much more attention to the time of sunrise and sunset, and you have to avoid temptation. In the morning, I tend to eat oatmeal, because it keeps me warm and is filling. It's really purifying because instead of eating or drinking, I must find other ways to occupy my time, such as studying or spending time with family."
At sundown, many Muslims gather to break fast together in a small meal called iftar, which usually consists of dates and water, and is followed by evening prayers. In addition to the five daily prayers, Muslims recite a special prayer called the Taraweeh prayer (Night Prayer) during Ramadan that is much longer than daily prayers.
"Fasting is a time to reflect on your spirituality and work on self-discipline, it's not just about refraining from eating," Khalidi said. "The first couple of days are really hard, but an important thing about Ramadan is that we try not to complain, or else it ruins the spiritual contemplation."
Mokerrum Malik, a native of Pakistan, agreed.
"Ramadan is especially hard unless you have a support system. This is my first Ramadan away from home, and I already miss my mother's traditional cooking," Malik said. "I go to the Muslim Student Association to have a support system. We pray together every Friday."
In fact, the word Ramadan is derived from the Arabic word ramida or ar-ramad, denoting intense scorching heat and dryness, especially representing the heating sensation in the stomach as a result of thirst. Others say that the word Ramadan represents the scorching of sins by good deeds. Ramadan is dictated by rules that discourage negative behaviors.
"The rules are very strict," Malik said. "All Muslims must observe this month, except people who are very ill, elderly, young children or pregnant women. You're supposed to be clean before fasting, and if you bleed or speak ghayrbah [badly about others] it's considered to be breaking the fast, even if it was an accident."
Khalidi said there are consequences for breaking the fast.
"If a Muslim breaks fast, they are supposed to fast for another day after the end of Ramadan to atone," she said.
On Oct. 27, the start of Ramadan, Muslims celebrated the Laylat al-Qadr (the Night of Power). It is believed that on this night, Muhammad first received the revelation of the Quran and that God determines the course of the world for the following year. When the fast ends (the first day of the month of Shawwal), a three-day celebration called Eid al-Fitr (the Feast of Fast Breaking) occurs. Gifts are exchanged between family members and friends, and Muslims gather at mosques to pray in congregation and to partake in large meals of traditional food. This year, Eid al-Fitr will be Tuesday, Nov. 25.
"Ramadan is my favorite time of the year because we are trying to train ourselves to be better people throughout the entire year," Malik said. "It's like running a marathon - it's really hard to do, but in the end, you will be a better person for having the self-discipline to complete it"