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Wednesday, July 24, 2013 - 11:57am

Fast, Pray, Eat

Muslims all over the world are in the midst of the month of Ramadan. In Atlanta, young Muslim professionals are organizing group dinners called iftars to break their all-day fast. Here’s a glimpse of one dinner that brought together more than 50 young Muslims as they ended another day of abstaining from food and drink.

It’s a warm Friday night at Masala Restaurant in Decatur, and at first, the place is abuzz with people arriving, waiters setting tables and glasses clinking.

It’s the first dinner the Atlanta Muslim Young Professionals group has arranged for Ramadan this year.

As friends greet each other, the organizers are signing attendees in.

Safia Ansari is head of the social committee. Asked, how many people were expected, she gushes, “Oh my goodness! Facebook says 90 people! I’m hoping…I told them 60.”

In addition to organizing the iftar, Safia has been fasting herself.

“I’m pretty tired, to be honest! It’s been a long day,” she said. “I took a three-hour nap but I work at a coffee shop part-time so as soon as I eat and pray in the morning and then stop eating, I go straight to work and I’m smelling all this delicious coffee!”

Suddenly, a sound comes from the center of the room, rising up through the din. A man is singing, a cappella, what sounds like the most beautiful, urgent song you’ve every heard.

Then the room quiets down as the guests recognize the distinctive Muslim call to prayer. Their 14-hour fast is over. But first, they need to pray.

The women pray inside, and a dozen men head outside. They’ve stretched blankets over the sidewalk and they stand side-by-side. Then in unison they drop to their knees, lean over and rest their heads on the sidewalk. Over the next 10 minutes, they are lost in prayer and oblivious to the traffic in the strip mall parking lot.

Once the prayer is over, everyone’s ready to eat. But they say Ramadan is about more than just fasting. It’s a time to get closer to God.

Abdel Camara is an accountant living in Atlanta. Reflecting on tonight’s call to prayer, he says “It never gets old. It’s the same call to prayer that has been heard over a millennium and a half, calling people to pray and it’s amazing every time you hear it.”

The group organizing the dinner always chooses restaurants that offer a buffet. That way, the young Muslim professionals can break their fast quickly after working all day without food or drink.

Ramadan falls this year in the height of summer. That means the estimated 80,000 Muslims in Georgia are fasting from sunup to sundown on some of the year’s longest days.

Pretty soon a line forms at the buffet. Samina Sattar, a teacher, is one of those waiting to eat.

“I am so ready to dig in,” she said. “I’ve had such a long day. I was working from 7:45 a.m. to 6 p.m. and I’m just exhausted.”

So what’s she eating?

“I’m having some naan bread. I always love getting naan from restaurants because it’s always so fluffy,” she says. “And this lentil soup called dal makhani. And tandoori chicken.”

Abdel, the accountant, had his eye on something else.

“I went straight for the dessert,” he says.

Which is mirch, an Indian specialty that includes green chillies. And which, after a long day of fasting, is just the treat he needs.

The young professionals have finished the first week of Ramadan. Another day of fasting awaits them the next day. But it’s a Saturday and they’re planning to sleep in.

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