Edison High School student Abdulahi Abdulahi plays soccer during the middle of the day, despite fasting for about 18 hours because of Ramadan. Students Sagal Hussein and Ayub Ben Belgacem work jobs after school. Abdirahman Adam said the Islamic holy month is a good time for him to focus on his grades.
The four are among dozens of Edison students who celebrate the holy month with fasting and prayer. They also mark it with post-sunset meals with family and friends, called iftars, and with prayer and reflection.
This year, Ramadan started mid-May and goes until mid-June.
Abdulahi, Hussein, Ben Belgacem and Adam talked about the holiday with The Journal last week, explaining why they fast and how they maintain focus during the school day. They were joined by three students who are not Muslim who talked about their impressions of students who celebrate the month.
This conversation has been edited for clarity.
The Journal: What’s it like to fast every day?
Abdulahi: It’s a very hard time during Ramadan, and it shows you where you are in your (belief) and showing others the struggle of not eating. … Most of my friends eat, so it’s very hard to be around someone who’s not eating.
Ben Belgacem: This month is actually month for teaching you patience. For letting you know the feelings of other people who don’t have food who are struggling.
TJ: Are there any reasons you fast beyond what it says in the Quran?
Hussein: This is the only month out of the 12 months that you can get close to God and ask for forgiveness.
Abdulahi: And it also is the month that the Quran was revealed.
Adam: It’s a month of reward. Everything you (do), you’re going to get rewarded for.
TJ: What’s it like to have to come to school and not be able to drink water or eat anything?
Abdulahi: It’s very hard.
Ben Belgacem: I get used to it. I started from when I was 10 years old.
Hussein: The only thing I get tired of is the stairs, because we have a third floor, a second floor and the basement, and we still have to go up and down.
Abdulahi: Even some of us have like a gym class, and you have to run like a half mile.
TJ: Does the school excuse you from lunch?
Hussein: You can just go to class and do your work.
Adbulahi: Sometimes they open the auditorium.
TJ: Is it harder to focus on your school month during Ramadan?
Hussein: When you get hungry and tired, you don’t want to do anything, so you just want to get your head down and sleep.
Adam: I think it’s the opposite for me, because this is the best time for me to get the best grades. I get a chance between lunch to (focus) on my grades.
Ben Belgacem: Ramadan is not only about fasting. … It’s about respecting others, not swearing…
Adam: Instead of watching movies and listening to songs and all that kind of stuff, what I do is I use that time to take a nap so I can get my energy back.
TJ: When can you break the fast?
Ben Belgacem: We have five prayers every day. The first prayer is the Fajr, when we stop eating. The last one is the Isha. Before the last one, you can eat.
Adam: The time changes (with the sunset).
Hussein: For the first time, it was at 8:45, and now it’s at 8:49.
TJ: What time do you have to wake up in the morning to eat before the fast?
Ben Belgacem: It depends on the year.
Hussien: The last time you can eat is at 3:49 (a.m.).
TJ: So you are waking up at 3:30 each morning to eat?
Abdulahi: I don’t wake up.
Ben Belgacem: Some people do. They just wake up for eating. Some people wake up to eat and pray.
TJ: How many students at Edison do you think celebrate Ramadan?
Jackson Rusnacko: It’s a lot.
Damari Jordan-Onchiri: The lunchrooms are empty. Those lines are so short.
Rusnacko: The lines go like that (snaps his fingers).
Jordan-Onchiri (talking to the students celebrating Ramadan): I respect y’all patience because I don’t have it. I know I don’t.
Rusnacko: I couldn’t do it.
TJ: So you guys are impressed by the students who celebrate Ramadan?
Jordan-Onchiri: I know I am. My best friend and I were just talking about that today. Because two girls walked past us, and I was like, ‘I don’t know if I could do it, walking past people who are eating, and I can’t eat.’
Rusnacko: I get dehydrated so easily. If I don’t drink a lot of water, I’ll just get really light headed and not want to do anything, too. … When it’s super hot outside, I definitely couldn’t do it, especially if I play sports and stuff, too.
Caroline Anthony: I respect how they don’t get it in the way of the school work or problems that are happening in their lives. They just do it.
TJ: Is there anything else you would want to say about Ramadan?
Abdulahi: We’re not fasting to God. We’re fasting to ourselves. If you fast or not fast, that doesn’t affect God or his greatness. God is always great. No matter what you do, it doesn’t change.