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Afghan-American Family Finds Ramadan Good Opportunity for Reflection

  • Monaliza Noormohammadi

The Muslim Ramadan holiday is nearing its end. And for one Afghan-American family in California, it is a special time - a time to be thankful for all they have.

Just before dusk on the 22nd day of Ramadan, the Noorzayee family is working up an appetite. Already hungry from fasting for Ramadan, they are shooting some hoops in the back yard of their Orange County home.

Suraya, her husband Mohammed and their 12 year-old son Hamza have fasted all day, while their eight year-old daughter Zohala fasted the majority of the day.

All share a passion for basketball.

Holiday Tradition

Suraya Noorzayee emigrated from Afghanistan more than 30 years ago. Today, she continues a holiday tradition of her mother's. "I'm making picharwah. During the month of Ramadan my mother always made this dish as a way to entice us to fast. Since then this picharwah has remained in our family. Whenever it's Ramadan, my mother still makes this dish, so to keep the tradition, during Ramadan I make it for Zohal and Hamza. And it's easy to make and very tasty," she said.

The dish consists of sliced potatoes marinated in spices and fried to golden perfection. The kids love it.

"My mom, her picharah is the best. It's like French fries, but with better taste," said Hamza.

Beyond the delicious picharwah, Ramadan for the Noorzayee family means a time for spiritual growth while practicing self-control. "If someone fasts for a few days, they see that the hardest thing for a human being is not eating. So when you can control that desire you can control anything, see that anything else is easier than the month of Ramadan. If someone has a bad habit, they can learn to control it," said Mohammad Noorzayee.

When the temptation to eat becomes nearly unbearable for Zohal, she gives herself a little pep talk. "I'm saying like [to myself] 'I can't break my fast, I can't break my fast,' that's all," she said.

Benefits of Fasting

During Ramadan, Hamza goes to the mosque with his father every night after Iftar. He says fasting gives him strength and peace, "For us at a certain time we can break our fast; other people they have nothing to break their fast with. So it just makes me pray and ask for forgiveness, and be grateful for all the things I have," he said.

His sister shares the same sentiment. "God gives us all this and some people don't have it, so … we should be grateful of what we have," Zohal said.

The Noorzayees feel they have much to be thankful for. In addition to their home life, Suraya and Mohammad own an information technology company.

While it may be demanding to juggle careers, family and faith, Suraya says the important thing is to remember the basics: "Unfortunately, it's not entirely possible to adhere to an Islamic culture night and day. But the things that are important in Islam - be a good person, be honest, help others, be loyal, take care of your parents, help your friends, and be loyal to your family - in my opinion those are the best characteristics of a Muslim," she said.

Suraya passes more than traditional values to her children.

She advises her daughter Zohal to be independent, not to wait for a "prince charming" but instead to take care of herself by getting an education and establishing a career.

And although at times it may be challenging to maintain an American lifestyle that still conforms to Islamic values, Mohammed Noorzayee says finding the balance is key.

"In everything there is good and bad, and we have to listen and let them know what things are Islamic and what things are not. They have to understand because after us, this is the generation that will carry the family name that will carry the name of Islam, so we have to teach them. We learned from our parents, and they learn from us," he said.

While times - and circumstances - may be changing, for the Noorzayee family, the values and traditions of Ramadan remain the same.