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Ramadan a time for reflection, prayer for Muslims

WILLMAR --A midsummer Ramadan will present challenges for many Muslims in the U.S.

During the Islamic holy month that begins today, all able-bodied Muslims are expected to abstain from food, drink and sex each day from dawn to sunset.

"This is the month of mercy, forgiveness and purification," said Abdirizak Mahboub, director of West Central Interpreting and Consultant Services in Willmar. "It gives us perspective."

Muslims believe that the Qur'an was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad during Ramadan, the ninth month of the lunar calendar that lasts 28 to 30 days.

"It depends on the moon's position," Mahboub said.

During the month, Muslims reflect on life and pray to Allah, their god.

"It's kind of a tune-up for them in their spiritual life," said Yusuf Ahmed, director of the African Development Center in Willmar. "It's a time for inner reflection, devotion to God. It also teaches Muslims to practice self-discipline and self-control."

Islam is the second-largest religion in the world with about 1.57 billion adherents, but only 2 million of the more than 300 million people in the U.S. are Muslims, according to the Pew Research Center.

While Muslims here fast, they are surrounded by people carrying on their daily activities.

"It is very hard when you are fasting in the United States, where the most common religion is Christianity," Mahboub, said.

In other countries, there are celebrations and time for prayer, but Muslims in the United States don't have that luxury.

Ramadan will affect our daily lives tremendously, Mahboub said.

Since Ramadan takes place during the middle of summer this year, Muslims will fast for up to 15 or 16 hours a day.

Many will wake early in the morning to eat and pray before sunrise to help them through the day.

"You can eat as much as you like at night," Mahboub said. "But, working while fasting is a very difficult thing. You can feel the hunger and a little pain."

Many will look forward to the Muslim holiday Eid al-Fitr, which means feast of the breaking fast and marks the end of Ramadan.

Wearing their best clothes, Muslims go to a mosque or community center to pray together before celebrating with feasts, song and dance.

"It's a huge celebration that day," Mahboub said. "People get together and share food, basically hoping that everyone has been forgiven.