RALEIGH (WTVD) -- Ramadan is one of the holiest time for people of the Islamic faith, and to better understand what it is and how Muslims here observe this time, ABC11 spoke with a local Islamic religious leader to put in perspective.
Mohamed AbuTaleb is the imam at the Islamic Association of Raleigh. He's a religious leader and describes the role of imam similar to what a pastor, priest or preacher would be for a Christian-faith based church.
What is Ramadan?
"Ramadan is the Islamic holy month of fasting. It's the ninth month of the Islamic calendar which is observed on a lunar calendar and Muslims fast between dawn to sunset, but in addition to the fasting dimensions it's also a month of intense spirituality and self-development.
"People engage in prayers as well as a higher state of awareness of their own character - refraining from bad speech. And it's also a month of giving and kindness to the poor."
It's one of the holiest times in the Islamic faith. What are people supposed to think about and reflect upon?
"In the holy Koran actually when speaking about the month of Ramadan, it says that fasting has been prescribed on Muslims as it has been prescribed upon poorer nations and so in fact Muslims can act with a legacy of giving up something beautiful - food, drink, daily life - and the routine is broken for a higher purpose, for love and devotion of God, to God, which leads to heightened awareness of one's role in the family, in the community and your responsibility towards country, towards the poor and so on.
"Beyond the food and drink dimension, you'll find people giving the most charity of the year, and people engaging the most deep introspection and review of their own state in life, their plans, where they can improve and where they can strengthen where they're already good at."
The fast can be broken after sunset?
"That's right, and so the fast actually starts at dawn. A little bit before sunrise so this is the longest time of year, in the summer, so dawn here in Raleigh is about 4:15 a.m. right now and then sunset these days is about 8:30p.m., so this is the longest fast of the year, 16-17 hours. In the winter it's shorter.
"But at sunset people will engage with breaking the fast typically with some dates and some water and then nice meals and often they will share those meals with the community or with the poor and so there are many open iftars here in the Triangle area, not only for Muslims but for people of all faiths, as well as for special programs that are targeted at the homeless and the less privileged to make sure that they are eating better during this month and getting access to that help."
Check out photos of the end of Ramadan celebration last year.
What is Iftar?
"Iftar is breakfast, and actually if you look at the word breakfast and you split it's breaking the fast. And so it's a breakfast but it's at night. Iftar is that meal that happens at sunset breaking the day of fasting."
What is Eid?
"Eid literally means celebration, and there are two major Eids in the Islamic calendar, similar to that status, say of, Christmas for Christians.
"One is Eid al-Fitr which comes at the end of Ramadan and that's a celebration of the end of the month of fasting and the other is Eid al-Adha which is a commemoration of the sacrifice of the family of Abraham and that happens during the season of the Islamic holy pilgrimage, the hajj to mecca."
Is it typical for someone to break the fast after sunset and have meal throughout the night in between sleep?
"So in addition to the iftar which happens at sunset, that's one of the major meals, there's typically a pre-dawn meal called the suhoor and this would be much earlier than people would consume their first meal, so this would be 3:30 a.m., 4 a.m. here in the Triangle.
"And that is often eaten with the family because it is so early, and so typically people will get up and eat some food that will help you stay hydrated and energetic throughout the day. Ramadan really makes you eat healthy because if you don't you'll get very, very tired very quickly.
"And then iftar is often communal. Some people sometimes enjoy it with family but they'll also take the opportunity to invite friends or come to the local mosque or community center and eat with the community.
"And then people space out drinks of water and hydration and eating throughout the evening hours, as well as getting some sleep."
What is it that you want people to know about Ramadan?
"I guess two dimensions come to mind. One is actually for folks that have Muslim colleagues at work, you'll observe them during their lunch hours instead of eating, they may be resting, or reading, something like that and that's something to keep an eye out for, just to be aware that during the day they won't be eating. They'll be delaying all their meals, as we've talked about, for the evening hours.
"And I think another dimension of Ramadan that's important to emphasis is one of empathy. You know we get into a routine, especially as Americans here we're blessed with some much more than many other parts of the world.
"If my morning coffee doesn't have the right amount of milk, I can become very irritable, or especially in these hot days, if I don't have my water on demand. Ramadan shifts that so much because as you go through these long hours where you're out of your routine, out of your comfort zone, you feel things that you're not used to feeling.
"You feel that hunger which is a way of life for so many people, and at the end of the day you're not dreaming of a cup of coffee, you're dreaming of a sip of water or just a bite of a piece of fruit. That same blessing that's all around you just has so much more of a higher value now that you appreciate how special that is.
"And I think that's one thing that really motivates Muslims to give more in this month because you feel a connection with sadly what people go through all across the world not just in Ramadan but throughout their lives really, those that are less privileged and those that are here, home in America."
Learn more about the Islamic Association of Raleigh's Ramadan observance here.