The Islamic holy month of Ramadan began this year at sundown on Friday, May 26, 2017, and more than one billion Muslims all over the world are celebrating through fasting, prayer and service. The holiday corresponds to the ninth month in the Islamic lunar calendar, during which it is believed the Koran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammed.
Argonne’s Physics Division Director Argonne’s Kawtar Hafidi participates in Ramadan every year. When asked about keeping up with work and health during the month of fasting, Hafidi said, “This is a very hard balance. I left my home country when I was 22 years old, and each year my faith gets tested with Ramadan. You can only do it if you have a very strong faith.”
During Ramadan, Muslims abstain from eating, drinking and smoking from sunrise to sunset. It is a time of renewal and reflection. The purpose of fasting is for Muslims to draw nearer to God and to feel the hunger of those who are less fortunate. On years when the holiday falls in the summer, the long days can present quite the challenge.
Hafidi is originally from Morocco, where Ramadan is widely celebrated. “This is a time of the year where I really miss my country of origin,” she said. “In Muslim countries, it’s a whole atmosphere. People go home from work early and they prepare food. It’s a big month where we get together as family. We all have homes close to each other, and as you go home you start smelling food and pastries. It’s very special.” She laughed while remembering the common sight of people arguing at vegetable stands in the streets, irritable from not being able to have their usual smoke during the day.
Through her tests of faith during Ramadan, Hafidi has the full support of her husband, a colleague in Argonne’s Physics Division. “It’s very important to have family support in all aspects of life,” she said. “He understands exactly what I am going through.” Hafidi mentioned that often when she gets home after fasting all day, she will have a nap, and her husband will prepare a meal to break their fast at sunset. Hafidi’s 12-year-old son has recently started fasting some as well, and at night they celebrate with his favorite foods: apple pie and ice cream.
“We have special foods for Ramadan. The Prophet Muhammed had goat milk and dates in the desert, and so my husband and I will start out with dates and milk or juice,” she said. “At sunset, we have something light like soup, and then after a prayer we come back for dinner. Then we go to the mosque for prayer. When we get back we eat more, and we play cards or watch the Ramadan dramas on the Arabic TV channels.”
When asked about how her faith and work affect each other, she said, “It really is a privilege and an honor to serve my division, and doing my job the right way and with passion makes me a better Muslim. Work, in Islam, is worship in itself, so when you are contributing to society, it is as valuable as prayer.”
Hafidi emphasized that a main focus of Ramadan is loving one another and sharing the celebration with the community. “I think it’s good for Argonne, as a multicultural place, to celebrate and be mindful of each other’s cultures, and to just be mindful that this is happening,” she said. “My colleagues here are all very supportive. Fasting is something that touches all religions. It has different shapes and forms, but the concept is the same.”
The fasting for Ramadan ends at sundown on Saturday, June 24, with a three-day-long celebration to break the fast called Eid al-Fitr. Until then, Hafidi and her family will persevere as they focus their minds and bodies on goodness and compassion. “We underestimate what we can do,” she said. “We do great things when we push ourselves.”
— Savannah Mitchem (CPA)