During the month of Ramadan, Muslims throughout the world deprive themselves of food and drink, from dawn to dusk, every day, as a method of self-purification. For many observers, fasting is not too difficult; in fact, it is even enjoyable.
"Absolutely, Ramadan is always a pleasure to fast and to enjoy with family every evening," said Manal Ezzat, an engineer with the Army Corps of Engineers in Washington, D.C. "Getting together with friends whenever we can, given our busy work schedules and school schedules."
Like many other Muslims, Mrs. Ezzat considers Ramadan a good occasion to practice self control. She definitely thinks that the traditional rituals make it more colorful¸ and is now looking forward to the celebrations. As a wife and a mother of an eight-year old boy, she always plans ahead for the big event that comes after Ramadan, the Muslim feast of Eid al-Fitr.
"We plan, of course, on going to the prayers for Eid very early in the morning. After that, we will gather with friends and the little family we have here," she explained. "The kids will get together and exchange presents. Later in the day, we will all get together and will go out and have a nice formal dinner. We try to make the day as festive and commemorative to the children, as possible as we can. This is our ultimate goal; is to give them the sense of this is our culture, our tradition and instill in them our ways of celebrating the Eid."
Having celebrated Thanksgiving and now anticipating the other holidays during this season, many American Muslims enjoy the festive atmosphere around them, the decorated homes, streets and shopping malls, and the holiday music heard on the radio.
Danielle Derochette, a French teacher living in Vienna, Virginia, thinks that celebrating Eid is as exciting and spiritual as Christmas, the holiday she used to celebrate in Europe years before she came to the States and converted to Islam.
"I do not find a big difference between celebrating Christmas and Eid. We decorate the whole house before Eid," she said. "We put lights around the ceiling, silk flowers along the staircase and a lantern behind the front window to welcome everybody," she said. "By the end of Ramadan, gifts and new clothes must be ready and wrapped with balloons. I also prepare special cookies. Instead of going to church Christmas night, I dress up and go to the mosque Eid morning."
But Eid is not only about new clothes, cookies or more money for the children. It is also the season of giving to the poor and needy. Donating money, known in Islam as "Zakat", is one of the five pillars of Islam. Others are a declaration of faith, prayer, fasting, and a pilgrimage to Mecca. But this year, as many international Islamic charities have come under scrutiny, Mrs. Ezzat says donating to those in need has become a delicate issue.
"We usually pay it to various charities, but unfortunately, through the midst of the recent events that we have experienced, we got very confused with all the publicity about what is the real charity organization, what are their causes and what is not?" she said. "So, we found, my husband and I, that the safest way to go about this, so it really reaches the needy, is to donate to the local community mosques and families, and there is a lot around us. From there, they disperse. They know better than I do, which organization it needs to go to and what their real causes are."
In addition, every year Mrs. Ezzat sends a portion of her family's "Zakat" money to the Cancer Institute, currently under development in Egypt. It is not only for Egyptian children, but an international facility.
At the sighting of the new moon, after American Muslims have completed the fasting of Ramadan and donated to the poor, they will begin their joyous celebration of Eid al-Fitr, a day of thanksgiving, peace, forgiveness and festive remembrance.