Wazir Harper knelt in prayer in front of a huge fan at the Association of Islamic Charitable Projects West Philadelphia Monday, the first day of Ramadan.
The construction worker has been observing the holy month by fasting from dawn to dusk every year since 1997.
“Last year, I can definitely remember, we were building a building from the ground up, we didn’t have any shade or anything protecting us from the sun,” Harper said.
Ramadan is based on the lunar calendar, so it shifts by about 11 days every year. This year, it lands in the dog days of August, when the fast cannot be broken until the sun sets after 8 p.m. and the days are hot.
“What I do to cool down is just pour water on myself, rinse my mouth out with water, spit it out, because you can’t swallow it,” Harper said.
Harper said he feels blessed to work the night shift for the first week of Ramadan, so he can eat just a few hours into his shift and drink water throughout.
Everyone at the A.I.C.P has a strategy for surviving the fast: avoiding salty foods, eating high-fiber grains such as oatmeal, and drinking lots of milk at breakfast.
Dr. Nader Habela, an orthopedic surgeon, has been observing Ramadan fasts for 25 years. He said most people he knows continue their regular exercise routines, but those who are especially sensitive to the heat should take it easy.
“I generally would recommend if you’re a little bit older, or a little bit younger, to avoid any of those strenuous physical activities that result in dehydration,” Habela said.
Habela avoids salty foods that will make him thirstier, and he tries to drink three to four glasses of water before the sun rises. That does not quite quell the cravings he has during daylight hours, though.
“You have all these great ideas of what you’re going to eat when the time comes to eat. And you can never consume even a quarter of what your imagination has had throughout the day,” Habela said. “I usually just go right for the chocolate.”
Many observant Muslims say fasting gets easier after the first few days.