By Karen Vance
WEST CHESTER TWP. - Six-year-old Melat Muhammud knows what it's like to be hungry.
The first-grader at the International Academy of Cincinnati at the Islamic Center of Greater Cincinnati has been fasting for several days of Islam's holiest month, Ramadan, which is to end today, depending on the sighting of the moon.
"I got hungry yesterday, but it's not hard. But I do get tired in the morning," said Muhammud, of West Chester.
Artwork is one of the ways students at the Islamic Center at the International Academy of Cincinnati learn about and celebrate Ramadan.
(Michael Snyder photo)
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Children as young as Muhammud are not required or even expected to participate in the month-long daylight fast from food and water, but when children learn about the significance of the fast, one of the five pillars of Islam, they often get excited and want to try it.
"For some reason, they feel like they want to do it.
And it also gives them a feeling of what it means to want something and to have to wait for it," said Shabana Shakir-Ahmed of Mason, whose 6-year-old daughter Zara has attended the school since its opened four years ago.
Her 3-year-old, Maariyah, also attends the school.
Mutazz Nuseirat teaches Arabic, the Quran and Islamic studies to all grades at the preschool-to-grade 5 school.
"We encourage them to try half-day fasts at first," said Nuseirat, who also leads the Muslim students in prayer every afternoon. On Fridays, the school's children join the adults in the mosque for prayer.
For the entire month, the students have been learning about Ramadan.
In art, students learned Islamic calligraphy, made mosaic tiles and created Ramadan cards for their parents. And in music, the students learned the "Ramadan Rap," a rewritten version of a New Year's song, and performed it in a Nov. 9 concert for their parents.
The students have also been participating in a food drive all month, honoring another pillar of Islam, Zakat, or charity.
"The idea is to have the kids in an atmosphere which is religious-based, while keeping the academic standards high," said Sardar Ahmad Tanveer, the school's principal and an emeritus education professor at the University of Cincinnati. "We talk a lot about how to relate to other religions so they can go out in the world and be better Muslims, better community members and better citizens of the United States."
Fourth-grader Khalid Jazieh, 9, of Mason thinks he's learned more at the school than at his previous schools and is enjoying it. He's proud that he's been fasting for Ramadan.
"It was hard when I first tried it (three years ago), but it became easier the next year and the next year," he said.
About Eid al-Fitr and Ramadan
About 6 million Muslims in America (15,000 in Greater Cincinnati) are expected to celebrate the end of Ramadan today, depending on the moon.
The first of the two major Muslim holidays, Eid al-Fitr, known as the festival of the fast breaking, is celebrated with communal prayers on the first day of the new month, Shawwal.
Muslims greet each other with the phrase "Taqabbalallah ta'atakum" or "May God accept your deeds" and "Eid Mubarak" or "blessed Eid."
The observance of Ramadan, a month-long sunrise to sunset fast, is one of the five pillars of Islam. The others: the declaration of faith; five obligatory prayers each day; Zakat or charity; and the Hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca.
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