Published 12:00 am Friday, September 18, 2009

By David Vitrano


LAPLACE—Ashraf Abdelmuhsen, who along with his brother Mohammad runs the LaPlace clothing store Hipnotik, has, like Muslims around the world, spent the last month fasting from sunrise to sunset.

That is because on Aug. 22 the Islamic calendar entered its ninth month, Ramadan.

Ramadan is one of the holiest times of the year for Muslims, and eating, drinking, smoking and sexual activity is forbidden during daylight hours.

According to Abdelmuhsen, who studied physical education in college, “Ramadan is like a training camp.”

He said it is a time of cleansing both the body and the mind as it allows one to focus on more spiritual rather than material pursuits.

Ramadan is also a time when Muslims are encouraged to say extra prayers and commit extra acts of charity. But Ramadan is not all about austerity.

After the sun goes down and the fast is broken, it can be a very joyous time when families and communities gather for meals and camaraderie, said Abdelmuhsen, who was born in the U.S. but is of Palestinian descent.

The end of Ramadan is marked by the feast of Eid ul Fitr, a time of feasting and celebration.

As the Islamic calendar follows the lunar cycle, the dates of Ramadan are not fixed, and its observance usually begins about 10 days earlier each consecutive year.

According to Abdelmuhsen, one of the reasons Ramadan is considered such a holy time is because it was during this month that the Islamic holy book, the Qu’ran, was revealed to Prophet Muhammad. Accordingly, Muslims are encouraged to read the entire book during the course of the month.

He added Ramadan is considered one of the five pillars of Islam along with making a declaration of faith, praying five times daily, paying Zakat or charitable donations and making a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca.

Besides the spiritual benefits, Abdelmuhsen sees a physical advantage to the act of fasting, as well. “Sometimes you have to give your body a rest,” he noted.

“It teaches you discipline, too,” he added.