Starting with the prayer known as Taraweeh, the Muslim community in South Jersey has begun observing the holy month of Ramadan.
The prayer will be repeated every night for the remainder of the month, during which meals are served only after dark.
Each day at sundown, families typically attend a prayer at the masjid, or mosque, of their choice and break their daily fast - literally their break fast, said Iqbal Husaeen, president of Masjid Al-Hera in Atlantic City.
The next meal, called Suhur, begins about an hour and a half before the sun rises, said Imam Amin Muhammad, of the Masjid Muhammad in Atlantic City.
The different masjids have different practices, but the common goal during Ramadan is to say prayers from the Quran and refrain from distractions and negative habits.
"During this month you stay away from saying harsh words or fights. If someone confronts you, you politely say you are observing Ramadan and walk away," said Mohammad Ayub, secretary general of the Muslim Community Organization of South Jersey, on Tuesday.
The community bond is reinforced during the month through daily meetings and breaking the fast each day with everyone, said Riaz Rajput, of Egg Harbor Township. "It's a good time for spiritual communication and contact."
Later in the month, around July 26, there will be a day when the community will stay awake all night praying, Husaeen said.
Imam Jawad Rasul, at Masjid Al-Taqwa in Atlantic City, said the level of discipline and reflection required during the month is something the body adapts to easily.
Continuing normal daily activities, such as sitting through a full day of work without a meal, becomes a norm after the first three days, Rasul said.
"It's a very healthy thing for the body, especially in these days of fast food. We are eating all this junk and the body doesn't get a chance to process it" and cycle it fully out of the body, Rasul said. The fasting serves as a way for the body to cleanse itself.
Not following the fast is allowed if a medical condition could cause it to endanger the individual.
Abdus Sattar Miam, of Atlantic City, said that until a few years ago, he always participated in the fast. In 2010, he underwent surgery and the medication he is on requires a regular diet.
"I went to the hospital and (doctors said) I had to have surgery. I said 'No,' I have to wait one month because it was the month of Ramadan," Miam said Tuesday evening after attending the regular prayers at Masjid Al-Taqwa. But on the 19th day of the month. he was admitted to the emergency room and had to undergo surgery. He has not been able to partake in the fasting since.
"I felt really bad," Miam said.
During Ramadan, many choose to donate to the needy, fulfilling one of the religion's beliefs. Each Muslim is required to donate 2.5 percent of his or her income each year, a practice called Zakar, and many usually choose Ramadan - a time when good deeds and feelings are shared.
The cycle of fasting will break after 30 days, after which the entire Quran (holy book) will have been read by each Muslim. This is the time in which it is said that Allah recited the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad. As a result, Muslims read a portion of the Quran each night until the end of the month.
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