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For First-Time Ramadan Faster, Eid Is More Than A Victory Of Will

Millions of Muslims around the world today are celebrating Eid, after abstaining from eating or drinking during daylight hours for the 30 days of Ramadan. One Plano family welcomed Rachel Magruder, a Christian who’s new to the ritual, to the fast and the feast this year. Her best friend, Mariam El-Rayes, was surprised – and pleased – that it was Rachel’s idea.

“People often ask us, ‘So, tell me about Ramadan – like, you go through 30 days without eating or drinking – for 30 days. How do you do that?,' Right?" Mariam says. "And we’re always explaining it to people, 'Oh, it’s not that bad, we do it every year.  It’s no big deal.' And for the first time, somebody came to me and told me she was going to be fasting for 30 days. And my immediate reaction is, 'You’re going to go 30 days without food and without drink, you’re crazy!'”

Mariam’s mom, Hoda Abdelghani, started training her daughter to fast when she was 7 years old. Ramadan was in December that year – the ritual adheres to the Islamic lunar calendar. Each month begins with the sighting of the new moon, and Ramadan is celebrated during the ninth month. So the start date varies from year to year. Muslim kids grow up experiencing the fast in different seasons.

“When I was like, seven or eight, I have a memory of going into the pantry and opening up a bag of Cheetos and totally breaking my fast on Cheetos – and my mom definitely caught me,” Mariam laughs.

“She thinks she got away with it, you know, and she comes out of the pantry – and she picks of all things, Cheetos, which you can never hide. Even if you wash your hands you still have the orange everywhere," Hoda says.

Two years later, at 9, Mariam was fully participating in the fast. She has each year since, and she says the experience is a way to spend time alone with God and get better as a person through the trials of temptation and impulse control.

Rachel’s first memory of fasting for Ramadan looks different than Mariam’s. For one, it was in July and August this year. Read: She couldn't drink water when the sun was out, in the height of Texas summer.

“I’m a waitress at a breakfast place in the morning, and I went straight from that job to work at the ballpark in Frisco. I still had about two hours to go," Rachel says. "I’m sweating so much when I run around the ballpark – it feels like a workout, and it’s so easy to just pour water on yourself – and in that moment, I’m sweating and there’s no comfort for the sweat or the dry mouth. It feels like iron in your mouth.”

And, of course, Rachel didn’t have the gradual introduction to waking up at 4:30 a.m. – like Mariam and Hoda’s household does during Ramadan - to have breakfast, and then going without during daylight hours. Like the rest of the family, Hoda is kind of in awe of Rachel’s willingness to fast this year.

“Those kids went through a training early in their lives ... It’s so tough – it’s not easy, to just decide to wake up in the morning and decide to fast Ramadan.”

Rachel studies world religions, and wanted to have a more genuine knowledge of the Ramadan and Eid she'd read about. But she says her own spirituality was deepened by the experience, more than she expected.

"There's no denying that when you fast, you are feeling the presence of something greater than you at all times. It became a very personal thing," she says.

When the 30 days were up on Thursday, Mariam and Rachel went out for sushi after a prayer service. What did the family veg out on first, though, right when the sun was up, when they were finally able to eat at 8 a.m.?

A giant platter of Chick-n Minis from Chick-Fil-A. There were Maamoul date cookies and tea, too.

Lyndsay Knecht is assistant producer for Think.