Why I fast for Ramadan

For Omar Mumtaz, self-control is a form of worship

Omar Mumtaz gets a reality check from fasting during Ramadan.

Omar Mumtaz gets a reality check from fasting during Ramadan.

Photo By Anne Stokes

Starting August 22 and continuing to September 19 or 20, depending on the sighting of the moon, Sacramento’s Muslims observe the lunar month of Ramadan, an Islamic holy period. To learn more about Ramadan, SN&R chatted with 27-year-old Omar Mumtaz. Mumtaz, despite being more than a week into his fast, was kind enough to meet on the patio of Temple Fine Coffee and Tea downtown—this writer’s coffee was left inside.

What is Ramadan?

Basically, it’s the name of the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. It’s based off of the sighting of the new moon and lasts 29 or 30 days. Since it’s a lunar calendar, the date shifts up about 10 days every year. It is the same month when the Quran was first revealed. We believe that Quran was revealed to the lower heaven … and then to [the] Prophet Muhammad over a period of 23 years.

On the “Night of the Power”?

Right. The exact date of the revelation isn’t known. It is most likely one of the 10 last nights [of the month], and from there it is most likely the 27th night. A lot of the early scholars and the companions of the prophet said it was the 27th.

What happens on the 27th?

We have long night prayers. After the last prayer—Isha’a—we continue praying the Tarawih prayer. Also, the mosques are packed beyond capacity.

I meet so many new people that night. Many of them are coming back. During Ramadan, many people will start praying again and leave sinful acts.

Why do you fast during Ramadan?

I’m supposed to suppress my desires. It puts me in control of my desires vs. my desires taking control of me. Above all, it is a command from Allah.

What are the rules governing the fast?

Basically, from the call to the Fajr prayer at dawn until the Maghrib prayer at sunset, we don’t eat or drink anything, not even water.

Who is expected to fast?

Every male and female who has reached puberty. The exempt ones are those who are sick, and they are expected to feed a poor person for every day that they miss. Also, those who are traveling are exempt, if the fast would make traveling difficult for them.

How old were you when you first fasted?

I’m not sure. Most Muslims begin when they’re 7 or 8 years old.

Besides the fast, what else should you do during Ramadan?

The rewards for doing good during Ramadan are multiplied 70 times compared to when you would do them outside of Ramadan. People are supposed to do good, practice charity or mend relations. If you have cut off somebody, you’re supposed to mend those relations and re-establish contact.

You’ve lived in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. How does Ramadan in those countries compare to the United States?

The biggest difference is that, in those countries, everyone is fasting. This coffee shop wouldn’t be open during the daytime. Second, there’s a certain type of nightlife that occurs. At night, the malls and shopping centers are packed, because people can’t drink water during the daytime, so they stay inside.

What does Ramadan mean for you?

It’s really a reality check. Usually, when I’m hot, I can drink. It makes me think about those people who don’t usually have water to drink. After sunset, I can eat. It connects me to those people who can’t eat regularly.

I look forward to Ramadan. It gives me a chance to practice control over my desires. At the end of Ramadan, it’s a feeling of accomplishment.

What’s the biggest challenge for you during the fast?

I would say water. You’re so used to it. For 11 months, you can have it anytime. And I like chocolate. But I can wait. I’ve got to wait.