Reporter's Notebook: Ramadan is a true test of spirituality, faith

I will be among about 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide who will begin fasting from sunrise to sunset Wednesday.

We will observe Ramadan by praying during the night and fasting during the day for the next month.

Ramadan, Muslims' holy month, is an exciting time for me. You'd think that with no food or water all day, I'd be upset and grumpy.

But the opposite is true.

Fasting during Ramadan is the fourth of the five pillars of Islam.

Ramadan isn't just about abstaining from food and water, it's about exercising discipline, self-restraint and generosity, said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Greater Los Angeles Area Chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations.

"It's our month of the year where we focus on renewing our spirituality and our faith through acts of worship as well as acts of good deeds and good work toward fellow human beings and the larger society," Ayloush said.

I was taught to fast when I was just 6 years old. My uncle, Gamal Mandour, one of my mother's six brothers, was the first to tell me about Ramadan, the purpose of it and why we fast.

Khalo (uncle) Gamal wanted to simplify things for me, a child who didn't exactly understand spirituality.

Before actually getting me to fast, he wanted to prepare me mentally. He first told me that it's what God wants us to do and it's to teach us to be kind and good to others. To teach us to refrain from envy, jealousy, anger and selfishness.

Khalo Gamal said, When you feel hungry and thirsty, think of all the people and children who have no food, no water, no family and nothing at all.

Then the training began.

We pray five times a day, year-round, not just during the holy month, at sunrise, midday, in the afternoon, at sunset and before bed.

When I was 6, Ramadan fell on a hot summer in Cairo. On the night before the fast began, Khalo Gamal instructed me not to eat or drink until the noon prayer. I did as I was told. And I didn't find the task difficult.

Then a few days after fasting until noon, Khalo Gamal said to fast until the afternoon prayer, which is around 4 p.m. I did. And water sounded so tasty.

After doing that for a few days, Khalo Gamal said to fast until sunset, which was around 7 p.m..

That day was really tough. I counted the seconds until it was time to drink water. But when I wanted to be upset about it, something held me back; it was remembering all those who have no food, no water, no family and nothing at all.

It made me feel like I was with them, and it made me want to help them.

When I realized that I completed the whole day without eating or drinking, I felt a great sense of pride. And just like that, Khalo Gamal taught me empathy, self-restraint and generosity.

I began fasting all of Ramadan, the whole month from sunset to sunrise, when I turned 7.

I remain observant and still feel excited and proud each year Ramadan comes around.

When I think about it, fasting during Ramadan has shaped my outlook on life, the way I live it and what I want to accomplish.

If fasting has taught me anything, it's to do good to the people around me, to be fair, honest, and ethical and to want to contribute greatly to my community and society. And it's exactly what God had in mind when he prescribed fasting to his prophets and people.

During the next month, I will challenge and train myself to be even better at what I do, to learn as much as I can, to help as much as I can and be better to the people around me.

Just don't put water in front of me, and we'll be cool.

Mona Shadia is a Daily Pilot staff writer.

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