Dayaan Shah started Ramadan with doubts — refraining from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk seemed overwhelming for the 10 year old.
“I never thought I could do this,” said Dayaan, who lives in Pembroke Pines. “I didn’t think I’d have the determination.”
Dayaan reached his goal, and on the eve of Eid al-Fitr, the Islamic holiday that marks the end of the holy month, he was thrilled about his accomplishment.
“I realized that I could do it,” said Dayaan. “I’m proud.”
During Ramadan, Muslims focus on prayer, charity, self-discipline, self-improvement and reconnecting spiritually, often through the discipline of fasting. On Eid al-Fitr, which takes place Friday, they will mark the end of Ramadan with prayers and feasts with friends and family.
Young fasters like Dayaan, first-time fasters and non-Muslims who attended the iftar, or the breaking-of-the-fast dinners during Ramadan, reflected this week on what they’ve learned or what touched them.
For Rabbi Rachel Greengrass of Temple Beth Am, it was a moment last month during the evening prayers at the Islamic Center of Greater Miami, a Sunni mosque in Miami Gardens. The mosque invited members of different faiths to break the fast with them.
She was standing in the back of the mosque, watching a group of men pray as young children played hide-and-seek around them.
“You could see these 4- and 5-year-olds popping out of nowhere, and to me it was so endearing,” Greengrass said.
Word of Greengrass’ visit to the mosque spread and soon she was getting messages from her congregants.
“People asked me what it was like, and how I got invited,” said Greengrass, who plans on bringing people from her temple to the dinner next year. “It’s a unique opportunity. In Judaism, we call Islam a cousin faith. There are so many similarities that it’s nice to highlight those.”
Norman Hemming, special counsel to the U. S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, attended a few dinners during the month. One of those was at the Islamic Jaffaria Association, a Shia mosque in Hialeah Gardens.
“It’s very important for non-Muslims to attend because it really connects members of the community together and helps make us one,” Hemming said.
Shabbir Motorwala, a board member of the Coalition of South Florida Muslim Organizations, agreed.
“With these open houses we were able to educate the non-Muslim community at large and the leadership about Islam and the meaning of Ramadan,” said Motorwala. “It was a good year because were able to do it at a Sunni and Shai mosque. It was fantastic.”
For Yuray Ramos, 31, who converted to Islam about five months ago, Ramadan marked the first time she fasted as a Muslim. She said the experience connected her spiritually, and gave her an appreciation of having food and water.
“When you drink water it’s like, ‘Whoa, God bless this,’” laughs Ramos, who considered herself to be more spiritual than religious prior to her conversion.
For Dayaan, it was his second Ramadan fast. He said the experience has changed him for the better.
“I get more patient and tolerate more things,” Dayyan said. “I’m more confident.”
On a typical day during Ramadan, Dayaan and his family would eat breakfast before dawn and pray. Then he and his brothers would head back to bed, waking up in the late morning or early afternoon during their summer break. They would study the Quran before playing video games.
Since Muslims cannot drink water during the day while observing Ramadan, Dayaan and his older brother Amaan, 11, gave up playing basketball to take part in the fast.
“It’s only one month,” said Amaan. “I’m doing it for God, so I’m OK with it.”
The boys’ mother Faika Shah says she’s proud of her children — Amaan fasted the entire month, while Dayaan fasted all but one day. Their brother, Faizan, 7, fasted for 13 days while 4-year-old Zayaan didn’t fast.
“It’s something that they want to do themselves; it’s not something we forced upon them,” said Shah, 37. “The younger ones —when they see the older ones doing it — it’s something that they just want to do themselves.”
Shah makes it a point to teach her children that Ramadan isn’t just about refraining from food and drink, but bettering yourself as a person. Dayaan and Amaan have volunteered at food pantries and given toys to children during the month.
“I almost cried this year,” said Amaan, about giving away food with the Muslim-based organization, Project Downtown in Fort Lauderdale. “When you fast you gain patience and you get to feel how the people without food feel every day – which is not good.”