As Ramadan begins on P.E.I., Island Muslims seek 'higher purpose'
'The purpose is really about self-restraint and self-discipline'
The holy month of Ramadan began Wednesday morning and many Island Muslims will be fasting from sunrise to sunset for the next month.
In his almost 40 years on the Island, Zain Esseghaier has watched the Muslim community grow and experience massive change in the number of those taking part in Ramadan.
Esseghaier is a member of the Muslim Society of P.E.I. and says the community started with just 30 people — enough to gather for prayer in one small room.
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"You look around and you knew everybody else," he said.
Now, he said, there are close to 900 people taking part.
"Here we are 39 years later and now when I go to the Mosque I don't know more than half the people," he said. "I've never met them or seen them."
'Higher purpose' to fasting
Even with hundreds more taking part in Ramadan, Esseghaier said the overall plan is still the same with weekly gatherings and community suppers during the month.
There's also an event at mosque every night Muslims to come together and break their fast.
During the month, adherents avoid water and food from dawn to sunset. Those with medical conditions or women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or menstruating are exempt from fasting.
One has to have a purpose for fasting that goes beyond abstaining from eating and drinking.— Zain Esseghaier
One important thing to remember when it comes to the holy month, Esseghaier said, is that it's about much more than fasting.
It's about becoming "better people, a better Muslim, a better human being, a better family person and a better member of the community," he said.
There are a lot of challenges, he said, but there's a "higher purpose" to one's life than just eating, drinking and material needs.
"Fasting is really about preparing one's self mentally, psychologically and spiritually for the month. One has to have a purpose for fasting that goes beyond abstaining from eating and drinking," he said.
"There's a lot of reading of holy scripture from the Qur'an, there's a lot of charity work being performed … but also the purpose is really about self-restraint and self-discipline," said Esseghaier.
Ramadan ends June 15 with Eid al-Fitr — the religious holiday and celebration that marks the end of fasting.
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With files from Malcolm Campbell