Mustafa Zakreet, on left, and his brother Ahmad help teach their friends’ children, Hamza and Omar Al Saloum, how to swim in 2018. (File photo)

Former Syrian refugee in Shuswap shares his love for Ramadan

Salmon Arm resident looks forward to the holy month of fasting all year

The joy in Mustafa Zakreet’s voice is unmistakable when he speaks about Ramadan.

Ramadan, the holiest month in the Islamic calendar, began on the evening of Thursday, April 23 in North America and will end in the evening on Saturday, May 23.

“I just love it. I wait for this time of year,” smiled Zakreet, the first Syrian refugee to arrive in Salmon Arm in 2016.

He agreed to talk about Ramadan and how the coronavirus might affect it.

“It changes everything,” he said.

Normally, after the first day of fasting during Ramadan, a group of people would break the fast together. There would be a night prayer for the group.

Although at the time of the interview he wasn’t sure exactly how everything would unfold, he expected people would be doing prayers at home and then perhaps having phone calls to discuss the Holy Book. He will be following what the Islamic Centre in Kelowna does.

Read more: Wage subsidy program to help fund faith as congregations face COVID-19 crunch

Read more: Shuswap’s first Syrian refugee wants world to stop dictatorship

“We believe that the Holy Book was revealed during this month, during Ramadan. It’s one of the main Islamic pillars. There are five pillars and it is one of them,” he said. “It’s a time to put down all the habits and try to make connection with God. Reflect on our lives, spend time with friends, family, giving charity, helping others, this is what Ramadan is about.”

Although the amount of time spent fasting can vary from place to place, he checked the solunar tables for this area. He said the fast would begin about 3:30 a.m. and end around 8:20 p.m., about 16.5 hours, getting slightly longer each day as the light advances.

There is no food, no water, no smoking, no sexual activity during the fasting, he said, but Muslims still carry on with jobs or schooling. He said there are exceptions; for example, people who are ill, pregnant women and women who are nursing don’t fast at all.

“Basically, everything that you used to do in your day is prohibited; you just focus on having that strong connection with God, that’s the point of it.”

Asked if he gets hungry, he said, yes, absolutely. The idea is to understand how someone who is poor and hungry feels. Asked about feeling faint, he is quick to reply.

“No, not at all, I’ve been trained. I used to fast when I was a little kid, 12 years old, 13 years old. To us it’s normal, we love it.”

He said his dad would suggest that he fast for three hours when he was young, perhaps delaying his breakfast for an hour. He might be rewarded with a prize or money.

Following prayers and food after each day’s fasting, people will wake up about 2:30 a.m. to have a light meal, probably a piece of fruit and a glass of water. Then they go back to sleep and wake up as normal.

As a child, he was very curious why people were eating in the middle of the night, he laughs.

Read more: CMHA branch offers connection tips during pandemic

Read more: Devastation of Syria, loss of family cast shadow over refugee’s life in Salmon Arm

Zakreet’s favourite part of Ramadan has been all the connections.

“We would do a lot of activities; we would be doing a lot of prayers with friends – hundreds of people, thousands of people sometimes at the mosque at night. After breaking the fast, do a prayer and then go out and hang out with friends; it’s just a beautiful time.”

Ramadan concludes with Eid al-Fitr, a four-day celebration after the holy month of fasting.

“That’s the duty of every Muslim to give charity to the poor,” he said.

Asked if there is anything he would like people to know during Ramadan, Zakreet explained how best to greet Muslims during this time. The words translate as, ‘have a blessed Ramadan.’

“You would say Ramadan Mubarak if you want to greet a Muslim friend,” he said. “That’s always a good thing for people to learn.”



marthawickett@saobserver.net

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