For Muslims, Ramadan is the holiest month of the year: a time of worship, studying the Quran, prayer, and fasting. As one of the five pillars of Islam, fasting during Ramadan is absolutely necessary. That means no food or liquid of any kind (including water) between sunrise and sunset.
"Fasting during Ramadan is an important part of my faith and an act of worship," says Hassan Boussouf, a 54-year-old Muslim and the general manager of Afghan bistro Aracosia McLean in McLean, Virginia. Boussouf, who grew up in Morocco, started celebrating Ramadan when he was 14. "Morocco is a Muslim country, so everyone practices Ramadan," he says. "You won't see anyone at a restaurant while the sun is up during this month."
Boussouf, who moved to the U.S. in the '90s, says celebrating Ramadan here—in a non-Muslim country—is very different. Unlike in Morocco, the majority of people in the States aren't celebrating Ramadan. This means they aren't fasting, either, and the restaurant where he works remains busy during the day and evening. Here, Boussouf shares what an average day is like for him as a Muslim fasting during Ramadan while working in the restaurant industry.
Boussouf says that most people wake up around 5 a.m. during Ramadan. That way, they can do the morning prayer and eat a meal before the sun is up. But since he goes to bed late—common for people working in the restaurant industry—he wakes up at 7:30 a.m. This means the sun is already up, so his fasting time has begun. "One of the hardest parts of fasting during Ramadan for me is giving up coffee," Boussouf says. "During Ramadan, you can't have coffee, tea, or even any water at all during the day."
After Boussouf wakes up, he says the first five minutes of his day are devoted to prayer. "For Muslims, there are five different prayers. The first one is at dawn," he explains, adding that since he doesn't get up that early, his morning prayer is a bit late. "The other prayer times are at mid-day, 4:30 p.m., 7:45 p.m., and then before bed, though the times slightly change because it's related to the placement of the sun."
After his morning prayer, Boussouf gets ready, relaxes, and then heads to work to be in by 10:30 a.m.
With the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out, Boussouf says more people are starting to feel comfortable dining inside. The restaurant where he works has both indoor and outdoor dining, so it's been consistently busy. He says being surrounded by delicious food actually doesn't make fasting difficult. "You really adjust to it [mentally] and after a couple of days, your body adjusts [as well]," he says.
When it's time for the mid-day prayer and the afternoon prayer, Boussouf says sometimes he can take a break for them and sometimes his prayer must be delayed—it depends on how busy the restaurant is. "There is one other Muslim person I work with, so we take turns taking breaks," Boussouf says.
Similarly, Boussouf says he can only take a break for the sunset prayer if the restaurant isn't busy. If it is, he'll say the prayers he missed during the day at night, when he gets home—better late than never!
This late in the day, hunger and thirst may start to set in. "We so often take food and even water for granted, but experiencing hunger and thirst helps you better understand people who don't have access to these basic needs," Boussouf says. "Fasting helps you understand a bit more of what they go through."
Once the sun sets, around 7:50 p.m., Boussouf is technically able to break his fast and eat his first meal of the day. Of course, this is typically the busiest time for restaurants, so he usually can't take a break right away. Here, a snack helps. "I always make sure to have some dates with me, so I can at least have some water and dates until I'm able to sit down and eat," he says.
When the dinner rush dies down, he first makes time to pray before sitting down to a proper meal. "A typical meal for me at this time is Afghani lentil soup, which is made with different beans and chickpeas. It's very hearty," he says. "I'll also have chicken breast kebabs." He also has lots (and lots) of water.
Boussouf says he typically works until 10:30 p.m., getting home shortly after. Before bed, he has more water and a snack. "It's usually more dates or a banana and some nuts," he says. "Just something small." Then, around 11:30 p.m., he'll say his last prayer of the day and head to bed.
"Fasting during Ramadan is important because it purifies your body and soul," Boussouf says. While he says sometimes he does get hungry or thirsty, he welcomes these tests of faith. "Many people can't have three meals a day—or even two. Fasting during Ramadan is an important reminder of how much we take for granted."
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