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Indian Exchange Student Happy to Get Taste of Home during Ramadan


This article was originally published on The News Tribune web site
By Sara Schilling, Herald staff writer
PASCO — Musarraf Ali could have eaten a bag of peanuts or drunk a can of soda during his flight last week to Pasco.
Breaking the daily fast during Islam’s holy month of Ramadan is allowed while traveling, and Ali, 15, of India, flew thousands of miles to start his yearlong exchange in the Tri-Cities.
But the teen said abstaining from drinking and eating during daylight hours is an important part of the observance, so he didn’t want to miss it, even in the air.
He got to enjoy another part of Ramadan — the iftar meal, which breaks the daily fast after the sun goes down — with new friends in the Tri-Cities on his first night in town.
“I’m very happy to meet them. It’s very incredible,” he said, standing in the packed living room of his host mom, Sabiha Khan of Pasco.
Ali is spending a year in the Tri-Cities through the Youth Exchange and Study program, which is paid for by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
His first day in town was last Wednesday, which also was the first full day of Ramadan. Dozens of people gathered at Khan’s home, sharing laughs and conversation as they waited for sunset. When the sky began to grow dark, they broke the fast with water, juice and dates.
After a prayer session, the meal began.
Ali mingled with his new friends and host family. He’d already been in the U.S. for a few days because he participated in an orientation session in Washington, D.C., before flying to Pasco. Another Muslim student also arrived in the Tri-Cities on Wednesday with Ali, but is staying with a different family.
Ali said he felt right at home during the iftar meal. He would be doing the same thing if he were back home in India.
Ramadan, one of the five pillars of Islam, is a time Muslims look forward to each year. It commemorates when, according to Muslim belief, the Angel Gabriel was sent by God to the prophet Muhammad and revealed the Quran, which is Islam’s holy book.
The month starts at a different time each year because it follows the lunar calendar. It’s a time of special prayers, charity and fasting.
The fasting isn’t so much about self-denial, but about spiritual discipline and growing closer to God, said Yehia Ibrahim, president of the Islamic Center of the Tri-Cities. Everything is enhanced during Ramadan — there’s more worship, more outreach, more charitable giving, he said.
“It’s a month of blessing,” Ibrahim said during the gathering at Khan’s home. “We wish that for every human being around us. We wish to share that with everyone around us.”
About 200 families belong to the Islamic Center in West Richland. During Ramadan, there’s a community iftar meal at the mosque each week.
In the spirit of the month, members especially try to reach out to the growing number of refugees in the Tri-Cities from places like Iraq, Ibrahim said.
People seemed to be having fun last week during the gathering at Khan’s home. They shared the meal of rice, vegetables and other dishes. They spent time laughing, telling stories and watching children play. Ali made new friends.
The plan is for Ali to stay with Khan, who teaches high school in Kennewick, for a few weeks before moving on to a permanent host family.
He said he looks forward to taking high school classes and learning what it’s like to be a teenager in America. He’ll miss his family and life back home, but he’s also looking forward to the adventure.
“I wanted to see the way of life in America,” he said.
Starting with a little taste of home during Ramadan.
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