Sondos Kholaki is a Muslim student at the University of California, Irvine. In 2000, she shared her experience of Ramadan, the most sacred month in the Muslim calendar, through Beliefnet journal entries.

Dear Journal,

Ramadan is almost here, and I can most certainly predict that every journal entry will begin with "Dear Journal, today I practically starved to death." Just kidding! I guess I should be grateful that Thanksgiving is here because it gives me the perfect chance to stock up on good food (one word: leftovers!) before I have to give it up for a month.

I know Ramadan is coming up when everyone in the Muslim community begins preparing: buying dates which are used to break the fast, scheduling potlucks and dinner parties, making mental promises to give up smoking or swearing, and so on. It's a wonderful month in which people truly watch themselves and attempt to purify their souls and heart. Personally, I've always tried to do something different every year, whether it is to complete reading the Holy Qur'an in Arabic or committing myself to religious classes every week to advance my knowledge of Islam.

Sometimes I wonder if I'm going to be able to do the same while living in a college dorm. I mean, high school was a challenge, but college is totally different: different people, different personalities, different outlooks on life.

High school was a growing experience for me during Ramadan. Whenever people would see me, Sondos, without a lunch bag (or bags) during break, they would get suspicious. They would assume I had forgotten my lunch and would offer me some of their food. I would have to break loose with the "No, thank you, I'm fasting" line. Many people choose to reply, "No, thank you, I'm dieting" or "No, thank you, I had a big breakfast," which cancels out the whole point. I'm glad when people inquire about my fasting. It opens the door to educate others about my beliefs. Here's an example of a conversation that I might have had with one of my high school friends:

Q: What exactly is Ramadan?

A: Ramadan is the name of the annual Islamic holy month in which Muslims all around the world fast, that is, abstain from food, drinking, smoking, sex, and bad habits like swearing.

Q: So you don't eat for a whole month?!

A: Well, not exactly. We fast from sunrise to sunset, so basically during daylight hours. We eat as much as we want at night or in the early morning.

Q: Do you get up before the sun rises and have breakfast?

A: Actually, yes. It's recommended that we get up before the sun rises and eat something so we don't go hungry immediately.

Q: Don't you get hungry anyway? Sometimes I skip breakfast, and I'm hungry again by 1 p.m.! And you can't even drink water? Don't you get dehydrated?

A: I guess. I mean, you get hungry...it's what's supposed to happen! The point is to really experience how those less advantaged than we are feel every day, and those people don't even get a chance to break fast at sunset! Actually, it's not as hard as you think. Once you're mentally prepared not to eat anything for a couple of hours, your stomach follows suit. It's a very cool way to test your limits.

Q: When is Ramadan? Is it the same time every year?

A: Well, it's pretty cool. Because Muslims follow the lunar calendar, we're never really sure of the date until a couple of weeks before. Different mosques (places of worship) study the moon until they see the "new moon" or crescent. We finish fasting when we see the new moon again, in about 30 days. So, sometimes Ramadan is in the winter, and other times (God help us!) it falls in summer. (The sun sets much later in the summer, so we have to fast longer.)

I welcome Ramadan because it gives me the perfect chance to educate people about my religion and what I stand for. Contrary to what many people think, I also welcome any questions. I believe that if you're ready to fast, you're definitely ready to answer any questions people may have for you. It's part of the obligation.

I'll definitely keep you updated on my first couple of days of fasting and all the challenges I'm facing celebrating at college! And by the way, I'm thinking of making up a nickname for you..."Journal" is so clichéd. Catch you later...

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