Sunday, August 28
Multiple alarms screeched around my head. As I slammed my hand down on the snooze button of one alarm and searched for the other source of loud buzzing in my room, I wondered why I had set so many alarms so early on a Sunday.
Then I remembered. It would be the only chance I have to eat.
To write about the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, I decided to spend a day participating in the fasting and praying called for in the Quran, the holy book of Islam. As I squinted at 3:40 a.m. on my alarm clock, I wondered if this was a good idea.
As the Fajr, the first of five daily prayers, approached, I started to become anxious. The idea of not eating for most of the day did not bother me. As a journalist, I’ve become used to skipping multiple meals while trying to make a deadline for a story.
I was more concerned with not being able to drink all through the day. The weather forecast had the high in the mid 90s and I do not have air conditioning in my house.
I looked at the clock. — 5:05 am. Two minutes until Fajr. I sucked down another glass of water, faced southeast towards Mecca and began my first Rikat or prayer of the day.
It wasn’t until I started to wash the dishes sitting in my sink that I realized I was thirsty. Absent mindedly, I started to fill one of the clean glasses with water. Before I brought it to my lips, I caught myself and poured the water out.
An hour and a half later, I sat barefoot on the carpeted floor of the Masjid Abu Bakr, the largest mosque in Denver, waiting for the Imam to begin the Asr, afternoon, prayer.
As worshipers arrived, they found an empty place and recited two Rikats before sitting. Some struck up conversation with worshipers around them, others read the Quran quietly to themselves.
Everyone rose and began to form lines facing the alter when the Imam walked into the room. A young man standing next to me, named Ali, politely tapped me on the shoulder and asked if he could correct my stance. After moving my feet in line with the rest of the men in my row, he smiled at me and turned his attention to the front where the Imam was starting the prayers.
For 15 minutes, I rose and kneeled with the rest of the worshipers as the Imam recited prayers in Arabic. As I concentrated on my movements and the sounds of the fellow worshipers quietly reciting prayers, I quickly forgot the thirst and hunger I had been feeling when I walked into the Mosque.
After the final prayer was said, I rose from the floor and thanked Ali for helping me with the correct method of praying. He smiled and asked if he could give me a little more advice on the proper methods of praying. As he showed me the right way to bow my head to the floor, we began to talk and laugh about the many similarities between our respective religions.
When I finally left, I felt completely energized. The thirst and hunger I had been feeling had disappeared and was replaced by a sense of excitement at the new insight I had gained.
The first bite of a date exploded with flavor in my mouth. My friend Mohammad had brought the dates back from Saudi Arabia, saying that he refused to eat any dates from America.
“They are nothing compared to dates we grow in Saudi.”
I had to agree. I had never eaten any fruit so sweet and delicious before. As my friends and I ate dates and sipped Arabic coffee, a light, semi-bitter brew, that tasted like a cross between weak coffee and strong tea, we talked about my trip to the mosque and how my fast went. I told them it was easier than I thought, yet I was definitely thirsty by the end of the day. Mohammad laughed.
After we consumed an entire bowl of dates, we served ourselves heaping plates of chicken biryani and samosas. As I ate mouthful after mouthful of the spicy rice dish, I realized I was never more thankful for the food in front of me and the company that surrounded me.