The Khalilov family of North York hadn’t eaten in 17 hours, and their table was covered in plates of food: stuffed bell peppers, fried dough drenched in honey, nectarines and plums.
It was the second day of Ramadan, a month of daylight fasting for the world’s Muslims. At 9:03 p.m., someone’s iPhone played a Turkish call to prayer. The Khalilovs sat down in their North York backyard with a group of friends for iftar, the sunset meal they had been waiting for since sunrise.
Because the period of observance varies according to the Islamic lunar calendar, this Ramadan will be the most arduous in more than three decades, falling when the summer days are longest. This year, adult Muslims in Toronto are to refrain from eating, drinking, and smoking between about 3:45 a.m. and 9 p.m.
At the Khalilovs on Friday, plates were passed around and piled high with meat pastries, cheese pie and other traditional Turkic dishes. But there was something restrained and even solemn in the way people ate, though it was their first taste of food since dawn. They were thinking about God, some later said. And they were thinking about the truly hungry, the involuntarily hungry.
“There are so many people in the world who break their fast only with water,” explained Khalil Khalilov, 25.
Ramadan is the mostly spiritually charged time of year for many Muslims: believers are meant to perform good deeds, read the Koran and think pious thoughts. This immersion in religious concerns can make the month’s physical trials less seem less important, and less daunting.
“There’s a saying that we fast with our mind, with our eyes and our ears,” said Khalilov, an entrepreneur and real estate agent. “When a person is fasting, it makes him more considerate about the God … As long as you have this greater purpose in mind, the day goes by very quickly.”
Of course, difficulties still abound during Ramadan, especially when it falls in the thick of summer.
“If I’m at home with kids, it’s kind of challenging,” said Ayse Yegul, a guest and an outreach representative for the Intercultural Dialogue Institute, a GTA group that spreads awareness of Islam in Canada. “Sometimes it’s hard to follow up their energy. Sometimes I’d rather have a long afternoon sleep with them.”
But many at the dinner, including Yegul, said the hardships of an 17-hour fast are insignificant compared to its spiritual rewards.
“There could be some challenges, but those are very minor things,” said Khalilov.
His family, Crimean Tatars, immigrated to Canada from Ukraine in 2007. Now their Ramadan celebrations incorporate Toronto’s multiculturalism. On Friday, most of their guests were Turkish, and they have eaten iftar dinners with non-Muslim Ukrainians since arriving here.
“You don’t have any obstacles to communicate with each other. It’s a great thing we have in Canada,” said Alie Khalilov, Khalil’s mother.
“Here, we realize that we’re all human beings,” said Khalil.
Over tea, he expounded his plans for the rest of the month: to consistently attend nighttime prayers, to read the Koran from cover to cover, to give to charity.
Khalilov expects he’ll miss the spiritual intensity of Ramadan when it’s over, even this year with its punishing fasts.
“People are missing it — because we realize how beautiful this month is.”
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