The next four weeks are some of the most important on the calendar for Norman’s Muslim community.

Ramadan, which began overnight, is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar during which “Muslims abstain from food, drink and other sensual pleasures from before dawn until sunset,” according to a press release from the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). They will fast while the sun is up, pray more and pay close attention to their actions.

“Ramadan, for us, is a time to connect with Allah,” said Haris Ali, Islamic Society of Norman youth director. “It’s a time to pray more. Therefore, this is the month in which we refrain from eating, drinking and intimacy with our spouses during the daytime. It’s in our hearts. It’s a month when we connect with God more.”

Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam, along with the declaration of faith, daily prayers, charity and a pilgrimage to Mecca. There are both physical and spiritual aspects to fasting, Ali said.

“You learn how to sacrifice for God,” Ali said. “You go through hunger and thirst for God.”

During the day, Muslims do not eat or drink. They also use it as a time for training, Ali said, to become a better person.

At dusk, many will eat dates to break the fast. It has both traditional and physical benefit, as dates help prepare the stomach for digestion after a day without eating.

They will then pray, bowing in the direction of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, before a regular meal is eaten. This is also a time to be with family and friends.

“It’s supposed to be very simple,” Ali said. “And then you come back and you eat a decent meal, and you go back to the Mosque to pray and be with your family.”

Ali said after the first few days or so, the body becomes accustomed to fasting. But abstaining from food, drink and other activities is only part of the Ramadan experience.

“It’s, like, a third-level down,” Ali said. “The second best is where you don’t eat and drink, plus you control emotions, do more, give more, and you’re kind to your neighbors. And the highest level is all of the above, plus you connect with God as much as you can.”

While the term “celebrate Ramadan” will be used a lot over the next few weeks, Ali said it’s not entirely accurate. The month is more about concentrating on one’s own behavior and relationship with God.

“It’s supposed to be a humble month, where you get rid of your bad habits,” he said. “You have to cut it out as much as you can. Ramadan is the month where you really train yourself. We refrain from as much evil as possible and do as much good as possible.”

The observation comes at the end this year on or around June 15, which is called Eid Al-Fitr. The Arabic word Eid in English translates to “celebration,” Ali said.

“You’re not allowed to fast, you are required to celebrate,” he said. “We get our best clothes, put on our best perfumes and colognes, and we invite everyone over.”

Some non-Muslims who are interested in the practice get a chance to experience it first-hand every year. The Islamic Society hosts Break a Fast With a Muslim, during which members of the mosque invite friends or co-workers to learn about and experience Ramadan.

“For us, we wanted to reach out to people who are interested in learning more and just invite and welcome our neighbors, people who have driven by [the mosque] and wonder what this is,” Ali said. “Everything that’s going on with the political climate today, we wanted to reach out to people to show them the atmosphere, the culture of Muslims during Ramadan. And we wanted to extend and let people know this is how we feel.”

This year, the Break a Fast With a Muslim event will begin on the evening of May 29 at the Islamic Society of Norman, 420 E. Lindsey St.

While the Islamic Society has Muslims in Norman covered, there are those in outlying communities who may find it more difficult to mark the holy month. To overcome those barriers, the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City (ISGOC) and CAIR are hosting several events during Ramadan to give non-Muslims an opportunity to meet and interact with Muslims and to better understand their faith and customs.

ISGOC, 3815 N. Saint Claire in Oklahoma City, will host “Revealing Ramadan — A Look In on the Muslim Month of Fasting” from 6 to 8 p.m. May 22. The evening’s program will include a tour of ISGOC and a panel of Muslim professionals sharing their experiences of Ramadan, according to the CAIR release. Dinner will be catered from local restaurants.

On June 2, the eighth annual Ramadan Day of Service will take place in partnership with the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma from 1 to 4:30 p.m. at 3355 S. Purdue in Oklahoma City.

Imam Imad Enchassi — founder, lead imam and president of the ISGOC — explained to The Enid News & Eagle that some are exempt from the daily fast, including those who are ill, the elderly and young, travelers and those who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

But even when exempt from fasting, Muslims are expected to use the month to increase their acts of charity and draw closer to God, Enchassi said.

“It’s still part of the charitable nature of Ramadan,” Enchassi said. “If they can’t afford to feed the poor and the needy, they can serve the poor and the needy as a compensation for not fasting.”

CNHI News service contributed to this report.