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Muslims gather for Ramadan A local family keeps up tradition


The Makhzoumi family will rise before dawn today for a simple meal and prayers in their home near Timonium.

Neither food nor drink will touch their lips for the rest of the day, until sundown, when they will break their fast with dates and water before reciting maghreg, the prayer at sunset.

For the next 29 days, they will repeat the discipline, as they join the Islamic world in the monthlong observance of Ramadan.

As in much of the Islamic world, there is a bit of sadness at this Ramadan. Hassan Makhzoumi, a Towson physician, and his wife, Raya Makhzoumi, were born in Iraq. They are now American citizens and have three children who were born here.

"We feel something needs to be done. We feel the despot has got to be taken care of," Hassan Makhzoumi said, referring to Saddam Hussein. "But my God, it's like walking into a house, finding a burglar who has entrapped a family as hostages and you're shooting at the hostages. These people have it from both sides."

The fact that the bombing ended as Ramadan began made no difference.

'No consolation'

"Perhaps the intentions are good in terms of being sensitive to the Muslim world, but I think ultimately it's politically motivated, which is not necessarily saying it's a bad thing," he said. "I can only tell you, as a Muslim-American I find it a little disturbing when the policy is heading in the wrong direction. And the fact that this policy is being executed a day short of Ramadan doesn't diminish my frustration. It's no consolation."

There is also joy connected with this observance of Ramadan, of gathering together with friends and family, at home and in mosques, to pray and break the fast.

"People are misled by the fact that they think Ramadan is just a month when we fast from dawn to sunset," said Raya Makhzoumi, who was trained as a biochemist in Iraq and England before coming to the United States. "You refrain from food and drink, but really it has many more implications than just being deprived of the physical need for food and drink.

"It's also a time when families get together, friends get together," she said.

'Always a special month'

Her daughter Zaineb, 18, a freshman at George Washington University in Washington, will be away from home for at least part of this Ramadan. "I don't know if it's going to be different this year because I'm at college, but when I'm here, it's always a special month because it always brings the family closer together," she said. "We sit down and have dinner every day together. And we pray every day together."

The center of Ramadan, which marks the revelation of the Koran to the prophet Mohammed 1,400 years ago, is fasting and prayer. The rule for fasting is one must abstain from food, drink and sexual intercourse from sunrise to sunset. Muslims who might not be so diligent about praying the required five times daily try to do so during Ramadan.

"I think to exercise some self-discipline, when you have within reach whatever you wish to eat and drink, but you forbid yourself, builds character. I think it makes you a better human being," Hassan Makhzoumi said.

"Of course, it also makes you feel a little bit for those do not have access [to sufficient food]," he said. "You literally feel hunger pangs, and that puts things in perspective.

"And beyond the physical dimension, I think it is a tremendous spiritual experience for us," he said. "We somehow feel closer to our God and we somehow feel a little closer to our religion. And it allows us to think, 'Well, gee, how good have we been, come to think of it, about our religion? Have we been following the five commandments, the pillars of our religion?' "

tTC The five pillars of Islam, duties required of every Muslim, are: daily uttering of the confession, or shahada ("There is no god but God; Mohammed is the messenger of God"); prayer; almsgiving; fasting during Ramadan; and the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca every Muslim must make at least once.

It has been a challenge for the Makhzoumis, transmitting their Muslim faith to their three children -- Zaineb, 19-year-old Mohamad and 14-year-old Sani, who have grown up in an American and predominantly Christian culture.

"I believe that values aren't so much propagated by design, but sort of by osmosis," Hassan Makhzoumi said. "Both Raya and I feel very strongly that when it comes to religious matters, you use carrots and not sticks."

Pub Date: 12/20/98

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