2 generations of Pakistani-Americans in LA observe Ramadan

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It’s dinner time at the home of Kiran Hashmi and Sajid Mohamedy, a married couple in their late 20s. She’s an environmental consultant at a downtown L.A. firm; he runs a solar development company.

The two Los Angeles natives — both children of Pakistani immigrant parents — haven’t eaten since 5 a.m. This day followed the start of the ninth month in the Islamic calendar: the beginning of Ramadan.

In 20 minutes, at about 7:30 in the evening, they’ll be ready for the Iftar, the first fast-breaking meal this holiday season. After dark, it’s okay to eat.

Kiran is finishing a pasta dish; Sajid is laying out dates that Muslims traditionally eat to break the fast after a short prayer.

Sajid recites a few words in Arabic from the Qur’an.

"That translates to this: 'Oh Allah, for you I have fasted, and on your sustenance I break my fast. So please accept, for you are the most merciful,'” says Kiran.

Before they delve into their first full meal, Kiran grabs the headscarf she wears only when she prays, and Sajid gets the prayer mats.

Sajid serves himself some pasta and salad, and reminisces about the way he observed the holiday as a kid.

“I think my first real full fast was probably around the time I was six," he says. "But you don’t do all 30 days, and it’s kind of a badge of honor — you compete with your other cousins and friends, like 'yeah, I did four this month',” he says, laughing.

A full adult Ramadan includes 30 consecutive days of fasting from sunrise to sundown, followed by prayer at home and at the mosque. On the living room couch of their Silver Lake apartment, Kiran says Ramadan is as much about self-awareness and introspection as it is about fasting.

“The month really helps you recharge and refocus and really narrow in on what is this all about," she adds.

"And why are we here? What do you do with your money? Are you donating it or spending it on things you don’t really need? Like surfboards that you’re not going to use?” she says, pointing to the surfboard resting on her living room wall.

Surfing, picnics in the sun, lovemaking, even a sip of water on a hot August afternoon are off-limits to Muslims who focus on conserving their physical energy and faithfully observing this holy month. It commemorates the revelation of Islam’s holy book, the Qur'an, to the prophet Mohammed.

Kiran says she hasn’t really tried to explain all that to her co-workers.

“I guess they’re tolerant, but there’s nothing really for them to be tolerant of," she explains. "I’m still coming in at the same time, and if anything, I’m actually more productive during Ramadan. I’m super self-conscious of not letting people think that, ‘oh, she’s fasting, she’s not having coffee.’”

One week into Ramadan, Kiran and Sajid head to Kiran’s parents’ home in Torrance for a big family party.

Kiran’s siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins are all here, dressed in the kind of flowing, colorful clothes that make hot days in Pakistan and the Southland easier to bear. Sajid’s parents and at least a dozen kids are here too, ready for a Ramadan recital.

After they break the fast, Kiran’s aunt, Kausar Khaja, remembers how different Ramadan was in L.A. when she first arrived from Pakistan 20 years ago.

“When I immigrated, I realized I had to put in an effort to stay in touch," she says. "If I was not meeting the community or in touch with somebody else, there was a tendency to be isolated and you wouldn’t even know the rhythm of the year, of the Islamic calendar.”

In 21st century Los Angeles, Ramadan is now a widely accepted and observed holiday. Markets that offer halal food — pure by Islamic standards — aren’t hard to find. Neither are mosques.

A week before the end of Ramadan, and Kiran, Sajid, and a few friends head to the Islamic Center of Southern California in Koreatown for nighttime prayer.

Kiran’s college friend, Iesha Wadala, is the child of a Bolivian Catholic mother and a Pakistani Muslim father. She says that for her, Ramadan is an opportunity to practice the kind of non-attachment most world religions promote.

“It’s just something that really resonates with me because I get attached to things very easily," she explains. "I can’t remember, but I read somewhere that 'To love God more than you love anything else, and then you’ll be free of any attachment' — that’s your focus. So that’s what I’m working on.”

By 11:30 p.m., prayer is over at the mosque. Iesha, Kiran, Sajid, and their friends are walking back to their cars for the drive home. In fewer than five hours, they’ll have to wake up to another day of fasting. These and other rituals, they say, will help to strengthen their faith through the year ahead.

The moon above them is waning — that means the end of Ramadan will arrive soon.

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