The month-long holiday Ramadan is underway, and that means devout Muslims around the world and across Georgia are fasting all day. Spending a day with a family of lawyers in Atlanta as they abstain from food and drink and keep up with their case loads gives a glimpse of what the Ramadan fast is like.
It’s the first week of Ramadan and Kamal Secret arrives at work ready to start the day.
Except, his day started five hours earlier for the typical pre-fast breakfast before dawn.
By the time he’s in the office, he's already feeling the sensations that come with fasting.
“You get thirsty way before you get hungry,” he explains. “So my mouth is already completely dry and it’s 9:30 in the morning.”
He works with his father, Akil, and sister, Kinda, at the family law firm in downtown Atlanta.
Kamal, 31, and Kinda, 27, have been fasting during Ramadan since they were teenagers. But this year is their first Ramadan during the middle of July.
Akil, who’s 62, says the Georgia heat makes it hard. He more or less gives up his favorite hobby, golfing, during Ramadan. And he says fasting as he gets older is challenging.
“For me, during the latter part of the day, I’m mentally drained,” he says from his office, overlooking the city. “To even think, and to think logically and consistently and reasonably is difficult. But there’s no way to avoid that.”
Of Georgia’s estimated 80,000 Muslims, the Secrets are among the community’s African-American members. Unlike many believers here from the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere, the family wasn’t born into the faith. Akil converted in the late 1980s.
Muslims follow the Lunar calendar. Right now, that means Muslims here are fasting for about 14 hours each day.
When lunchtime rolls around, Kamal’s been fasting for eight hours.
“I’m starting to get a little hungry,” he says. “I’m starting to feel it a little bit.”
In Muslim-majority countries, work takes a back seat during Ramadan. But here in the U.S., life goes on as usual.
And Muslims do more than fast. In fact, Akil says that’s really the tip of the iceberg.
“It’s what you do for your soul and your spirit and your life and your relationship with your fellow man that’s supposed to be the primary part of it,” Akil says. “Being hungry makes it difficult. You’re a little more easily agitated.”
And during Ramadan, getting mad is taboo. In fact, Kinda says they often joke about that.
“A lot of times people will joke and say, ‘Don’t make me break my fast,’ when you’re playing around,” she said. “But your goal is to really just focus on being a better person in general.”
Kamal’s wife isn’t fasting because she’s pregnant. Islam gives a reprieve to expectant mothers and the sick. He calls her midday to check in on dinner.
“Have you taken out anything to eat for tonight?” he asks her.
She says she’s cooking chicken.
“That’s fine. I just want there to be food when it’s time. I don’t really care what it is,” he tells her.
Meanwhile Kamal’s sister, Kinda, still has to cook meals for her two children and husband. This year, she’s hit on a new solution.
“What I did last night was cook tonight’s iftar, or dinner, so I wouldn’t have to worry," she said.
As the day goes on, abstaining takes a toll on the Secrets. The family attends a funeral in the afternoon. While driving back around 5 p.m. from the cemetery, Kamal checks in by cell phone. He’s ready for a break.
“I’m feeling the effects after standing outside in this heat for a few minutes,” he says.
For the rest of the evening, he plans to move slower and talk less until he has to break the fast around 9 p.m.
The Secrets have three and a half weeks of fasting to go for Ramadan.