Ramadan, the holy month when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, begins this week, but for Linda Ali and her husband, Ousman, it doesn't necessarily mean less time in the kitchen.
For them and many other Muslims, Ramadan can mean a month of potluck dinners as families and friends gather at sunset to break the daily fast. At the St. Petersburg Islamic Center, families take turns to provide the evening Ramadan meal or iftar. Sometimes, it's a potluck of the community's diverse cultures.
Ali, who immigrated from Trinidad, can be counted on to contribute roti — a flatbread — and goat curry. Her husband's specialty is Cantonese-style chow mein.
Ayesha Sookdeo, 62, from Guyana, might take chicken curry, spinach and dhal — a split pea dish — and rice for the communal meal.
With four young sons, Fatima Maloui, 34, mostly breaks the fast at home. On Friday and Saturday evenings, though, she and her family head out with their potluck dishes to the mosque.
During Ramadan, Maloui, who's from Morocco, makes traditional foods like harira, a tomato-based Moroccan soup, sllo, a dessert made of browned flour, toasted almonds, honey and sesame seeds and shebakia, a type of cookie with sesame seeds.
Maloui said she believes she actually spends less time in the kitchen during Ramadan. That's because she prepares breakfast and dinner together in the evenings and simply reheats the before-dawn meal the next day.
But Ramadan breakfasts can be a challenge, said Bahiyyah Sadiki, 57, a science teacher at Gibbs High School. She particularly remembers when she and her husband had 15 children — her six and his nine — in their household.
Even now, with only one child at home, "You are up cooking around 4, 5:30 in the morning, easily. I guess that's why they call it the month of discipline,'' she said.
People are intentional about what they eat to face a day of fasting.
"The men always want something kind of heavy — pancakes, eggs, grits, some kind of breakfast sausage,'' said Sadiki, an African-American who converted to Islam in 1979 while working on her master's at Florida State University. "I, on the other hand, I can't eat early in the morning. I might have yogurt with some kind of granola mixed in,'' she said.
Maloui, whose 11-year-old son — her eldest — fasted for eight days last year and plans to fast again this year, has a strategy for breakfast. "I make sure we have some kind of protein. I make sure he gets a lot of whole grains and has lots to drink,'' she said.
Nursing mothers, children, the elderly and ill are exempt from the monthlong fast. Muslims also are required to refrain from sexual relations as part of the fast. During Ramadan, the faithful are expected to read the Koran and refrain from such vices as lying and gossiping. The holy month, which commemorates the anniversary of God's revelation of the Koran to the prophet Mohammed, also is a time for extra prayers and charity.
Fasting is more difficult during long summer days, said Imam Wilmore Sadiki, 61, of the St. Petersburg Islamic Center.
"This is going to be a very tough Ramadan, because of the time of year. It's 11 days earlier every year, because of the lunar calendar,'' said the prayer leader, who is married to Bahiyyah Sadiki.
He offered some advice: "Just eat normal meals, but drink more water. I suggest that they schedule their outside work for the mornings and be as conservative as possible when doing anything physical.''
Regulars are undaunted. Ali, 54, senior executive assistant to the president and chief executive officer of the Pinellas County Urban League, has been fasting since she was a child. "You just look forward to it. You consider it more of a blessing.''
"If you have strong faith, that is what helps you through the day,'' said Sookdeo, a hairdresser. "You have to focus on the reason why you're doing this.''
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at (727) 892-2283 or email@example.com.