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The Daily Tar Heel

Muslim Students Observe Ramadan, Urge Tolerance

Rising before dawn and abstaining from food from sunup to sundown are just a few sacrifices Mustafa would make for 30 days in the name of religion.

For Mustafa and other Muslims at UNC and around the world, the holy month of Ramadan, which started Nov. 18, is filled with prayer and fasting. Usually 29 to 30 days in length, Ramadan is a time for spiritual reflection.

Nadia Siddiqui, a member of UNC's Muslim Students Association, said the purpose of Ramadan is to become a more pious person, one more devoted to the teachings of Islam.

Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam, and Siddiqui said she recognizes it as a chance for Muslims to fix personal flaws, to focus on patience and to learn to deal with anger. The point, she said, is "to know and realize how dependent we are on God."

"It's such a blessed month. We thrive off of worshipping," Siddiqui said.

But in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Ramadan has taken a different tone for many Muslims.

Mustafa, a UNC freshman majoring in health policy and administration, said holy services are focusing on what Muslims can do to bring peace to a world marred by terrorism and prejudice.

"The world is a lot more knowledgeable about Islam since the attacks and now the war, so being able to fast and answer questions to the public has taken on a new importance," Mustafa said. "(We must) stand strong and be Muslim in spite of what others think."

But members of the Muslim community said standing strong is not always enough when Muslims are faced with racial prejudices of people looking to place blame. Many say there are constant feelings of apprehension and uncertainty that have created some difficulties.

"There is a level of concern," Siddiqui said. "Concern for security, concern for the innocent Afghanis."

A Muslim conference scheduled for December in Chicago was recently cancelled for security reasons, Siddiqui said, and according to an article in the magazine "Invitation to Islam," Muslims are worried that their religion is being judged by the conduct of a few.

"Any Muslim who wants to practice his religion and expresses the pious desire to live under the banner of Islam is labeled a fundamentalist or extremist," the article stated.

Local Muslims have eased their personal suffering through prayer and a focus on personal growth. They also have taken action to alleviate global suffering by collecting money for impoverished Afghani children and offering prayers for relief workers and Muslims of the world.

Although its observance has taken on additional meaning this year, this religious holiday has been observed for thousands of years.

The word Ramadan comes from the Arabic root "ramida," meaning "intense scorching" -- a sensation that refers either to the burning feeling that results from hunger and thirst or the scorching of sins with prayer and good deeds.

According to the teachings of the Islamic Center of Raleigh, "The month of Ramadan is when the Quran was sent down as a guidance for mankind with explanations for guidance."

During this month, fasting from dawn to sunset is compulsory for all Muslim adults, who also can choose to refrain from sexual activities, arguments or conflicts to be spiritually focused.

"To be honest, it really hasn't been tough," Mustafa said.

"This month is kind of like an energizer for the rest of the year, a time to put myself back in order."

Mustafa urges all people, Muslim and otherwise, to reach out to those in need and recognize the plight of others.

"Everyone should remember the innocent people in Afghanistan right now who are fighting simply to defend their homes, while at the same time fasting."

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