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Mohammad Zafar is grateful his employer, Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, provides a room where Muslims may pray during the day.

Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune

Mohammad Zafar and student worker Angelica Easterling dined on pizza. His department moved a pizza party to allow Zafar to eat with co-workers.

Megan Tan, Star Tribune

Hot summer days will try Muslims during Ramadan

  • Article by: ROSE FRENCH
  • Star Tribune
  • July 19, 2012 - 12:26 AM

Fasting -- without food or drink -- from dawn to sunset. Late night prayers. Waking after just a few hours of sleep.

For Muslims, Ramadan has returned. And this year the sacred monthlong observance, which begins after sundown Thursday, occurs during some of the longest and hottest days of the year.

For the 150,000 or so Muslims in Minnesota, that will mean fasting nearly 16 hours each day, offering prayers around midnight, then rising as early as 3 a.m. to consume big breakfasts so they have enough energy to get through the day.

"It's definitely challenging," said Wafa Qureshi, a Muslim and dentist who works in St. Paul. "I'm not going to lie and say it's all easy."

As a result, many businesses, schools and other institutions are making accommodations for employees and students who observe Ramadan: Some let Muslims work through lunch hours, allowing them to arrive at work later or leave early. Many also carve out time and provide space for daily prayers. Others hold office parties either before or after the holy month so Muslims aren't excluded.

A chance to break fast

In addition, some manufacturers allow Muslims to take longer breaks around 8 or 9 p.m., when the sun goes down, so they can break fast.

This year, Qureshi's employer said she could arrive at work about an hour and a half later than usual during Ramadan so she gets extra sleep each morning.

"There's such a strong component of faith that kind of takes over [during Ramadan]," she said. "You derive strength not only from knowing it's something you have to do but also from everyone around you. ... All the Muslims in the world are doing it."

During Ramadan, Muslims abstain from food and drink as an exercise in patience and humility. They also increase their acts of worship and spend more time reading the Qur'an. It was during Ramadan, Muslims believe, that the prophet Mohammed received the first revelations of the Qur'an from God through the angel Gabriel.

The arrival of Ramadan changes annually, shifting back 11 days each year. This year, the daily Ramadan fast in Minnesota will be about 16 to 17 hours long. It ends with the traditional fast-breaking meals, or iftars. Then there's the last prayer of the day around 10:45 p.m., followed by a special nighttime prayer called Taraweeh, which lasts another hour.

After a short sleep, observant Muslims wake up for the early morning meal known as the Suhur, followed by the Fajr (first prayer of the day). While fasting, Muslims pray at least five times a day.

"The main challenge this year will be how to manage sleep and rest," said Zafar Siddiqui, president of Islamic Resource Group, a Minnesota-based Muslim advocacy group.

"Jobs that are very physical and ... outdoors can pose some real challenges, due to the high temperatures that we are experiencing these days," he said.

Global marketplace

At Medtronic, Muslim employees can take advantage of flexible schedules and rooms for prayer; information on Ramadan is also posted in Medtronic's electronic employee newsletter.

"Medtronic is committed to global inclusion and diversity," Medtronic spokeswoman Amy von Walter said in an e-mailed statement. "Having a wide variety of perspectives [is] a powerful asset because they reflect the diverse nature of our global marketplace, customers and patients."

At Best Buy, Muslim employees are encouraged to speak to their managers "so they can work together to find a solution that works for everyone," Best Buy spokeswoman Maggie Habashy said. "For some people that means coming in late and leaving early. For others, they work the entire month from home. The prayer room [at Best Buy headquarters in Richfield] is open to any employee of any faith year-round."

At Metro State University in St. Paul, an office pizza party was held this week, before the start of Ramadan.

"I was immensely impressed. They [Metro State] have done a lot," said Mohammad Zafar, who works in the financial aid department. He added that the school is looking to establish a formal space for Muslims and others to use for prayer or meditation.

Lori Saroya, president of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the majority of businesses and other institutions in Minnesota make efforts to work with Muslims throughout the year.

"They seek us out before Ramadan starts,'' she said. "We're here as a resource. They want to know things they should keep in mind. We help them out."

Rose French • 612-673-4352

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