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Fasting is not just about food

October 14, 2004

MICHELE MARR

When the autumn sun descends below the horizon today, Ramadan will

begin. In Surf City, the month-long season of strict fasting and

prayer passes, for the most part, imperceptibly. Except for a small

congregation of Turkish Muslims, who gather for prayers in a

makeshift mosque inside a Beach Boulevard storefront, there is no

mosque in Huntington Beach.

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Which is not to say there are no Muslims here. Though it has no

numbers for the city, the Council on American-Islamic Relations says

that some of the 60,000 Muslims in Southern California do reside in

our town. To join in communal prayer at a mosque, they must go to

Garden Grove.

Ramadan also maintains a low profile because -- unlike Christmas

and, to some extent, Hanukkah -- it still resists commercialization,

concentrating instead on its spiritual intent.

One of the five pillars of Islam, Ramadan occurs in the ninth

month of the Islamic calendar, the month believed to be the period

when the faith's holy book was revealed to its prophet Mohamed.

It doesn't, however, always fall in the same season. Each year,

since Islam's calendar is a lunar calendar -- the 29- or 30-day

month, depending on the moon -- begins 10 days earlier than it did

the previous year. In time, every Muslim has fasted every day of the

year, at least once.

During Ramadan, devoted Muslims fast from food and drink,

including water, from the break of day to sundown and spend more time

in prayer.

Islam is the faith of Maria Khani, a member of the Greater

Huntington Beach Interfaith Council who moved to Huntington Beach 10

years ago. On Ramadan mornings, she rises at 3 a.m. to prepare

breakfast for her two sons -- one in the second grade at Seacliff

Elementary School and the other in eighth grade at Dwyer Middle

School -- and her daughter who is a junior at Ocean View High School.

"We eat before dawn," she said. "So I will be cooking at 4 a.m.,

making pancakes and eggs or whatever they feel like eating. We eat at

that time; the whole family."

Only her youngest son does not yet keep the Ramadan fast. Children

aren't expected to until they reach puberty. Before that, their

younger years are a training period when they can fast for shorter

times to get used to it.

"Last year, I tried to convince him," Khani said with a clear,

easy laugh that's almost musical. "I told him, 'I'll give you two

dollars if you fast.' He told me, 'Mom, you keep your dollars. I want

my candy.'"

Even for her older children, the first two days of the fast can

still be hard.

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