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Muslims begin fasting from dawn to dusk for the month of Ramadan

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

When the sun set last night, the Muslim holy month of Ramadan began, which means that many observant Muslims are fasting today. Muslims believe that this is the month in which God revealed the first verses of the Quran to Muhammad, who is considered the final prophet of Islam. So for 30 days, those who observe fast from dawn to dusk.

NISA MUHAMMAD: No food. No water. And it's just an exciting time to have a reset, so to speak.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Nisa Muhammad is the assistant dean for religious life at Howard University. She says Ramadan is a time to focus on family, prayer and gratitude for all that you have.

MUHAMMAD: While we are fasting from food and drink, there are people who have to fast from food and drink all the time. They don't have access to food. They don't have access to clean water. And so during this process, God wants us to understand, you know, what it means to be hungry, what it means to be thirsty.

FADEL: Of course, there are religious exemptions for people over health and travel.

MUHAMMAD: If you find that it is too challenging and you have to eat, go ahead. You know, Islam is not meant to be a burden.

INSKEEP: Abdoul Bah is a senior at Howard and a member of the Muslim Student Association.

ABDOUL BAH: The first time I fasted the entire month of Ramadan, I was, I believe, 9 - 8 or 9. I was in the - I was in elementary school. And it was a huge thing for me.

INSKEEP: Bah says Ramadan is about more than just giving up food and water. It focuses on spiritual discipline.

BAH: But also amplifying all the good in the religion, amplifying our prayers, making sure our prayers are more intact. We're more focused. We read more of the Quran or we - you know, we're on our best behavior. You know, we're not talking bad about anyone. We're not talking down on anything where, you know, we have a positive outlook on life. And we're focused on what really matters.

FADEL: Bah says he and his friends once organized a fundraiser for a mosque in New York. They set a goal to raise $10,000 and ended up bringing in twice as much.

BAH: These are kids our age, a little bit older, a little bit younger from our communities. And it's just - it's all in the spirit of Ramadan. They know that that money can help out a lot of people. And Ramadan is a time to give. Ramadan is a time to be better than we are before.

FADEL: A time to give, a time to be better than we were before. Words to live by any month of the year, really.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.