Imad Tarhoni co-taught a presentation with ELL teacher Jill Torres, about Ramadan during a preschool class at Garfield Elementary School. Bayan, Tarhoni's son (far right) is also in the class. Tarhoni's wife, Sarah, made special treats for the class to share. | Submitted photo

This morning, Mohammed Amin got out of bed at 3 a.m., ate a light breakfast and recited in Arabic the first of five prayers he will say today. The Forest Park resident will also not eat or drink again until after sundown, breaking fast with a meal called iftar. Until June 14, Amin will recognize Ramadan, the annual month of prayer and fasting for observant Muslims.

Ramadan is celebrated by more than a billion Muslims worldwide, including Amin and his neighbor, Imad Tarhoni. In addition to praying five times per day, Tarhoni said fasting is meant to make the month a time of self-examination and spiritual change. That’s why Tarhoni and wife Sarah Gambi will rely on just a cup of warm milk and a few dates to get them through the day. 

Ramadan, explained Tarhoni, was commanded by Allah in the Quran and is obligatory for every faithful Muslim. Growing up in Libya, he said he would go to the mosque after work to read the Quran, go home for iftar, and then return to the mosque until 11 p.m. The holiday’s purpose is to correct and reset your relationship with God, other people and yourself.  

“Even if you are the one who has been wronged you are to initiate the reconciliation,” he said. “At the end of Ramadan, which is called Eid al-Fitr, you will often see friends who had been fighting now hugging each other.”

In response to non-Muslims who think that going without food or drink from sunrise to sunset is inconceivable, Tarhoni admitted that during the first couple of days of Ramadan he often suffers from a headache because he is withdrawing from caffeine and sweets. But, by the third day, he said he feels fine. In contrast to New Year’s resolutions, which are often broken, Tarhoni explained that when you examine yourself and resolve to change for 30 days, you train yourself into a habit that lasts. 

“Even in the evening when I can eat I’m not hungry,” he said. “Your body gets used to it.”

Tarhoni said that at Rush University, where he is conducting cancer research, has been very accommodating to his needs as a Muslim, even to the point of providing a room for Friday prayers for the Muslim students on campus and rescheduling meetings that would normally occur during times of prayer. 

“It’s not only Rush, I’ve had friends tell me that at other institutions they are allowed to leave class or the office for five minutes for their prayer time,” he said, adding that his grade-school age son Bayan is finding no conflict between being true to his Muslim identity and American culture.

Tarhoni said he feels anxious to clear up a few misconceptions about Islam, which he said are created by Islamic terrorists that have “hijacked” his religion. A big misconception, he said, is the meaning of the concept jihad. “In the Quran,” he explained, “the term means ‘struggle for the sake of something good.’ It’s not about killing other people by wearing a suicide vest. My work at Rush, trying to find cures for cancer, is a much better example of what jihad means.”

Amin added that in the Quran the Prophet commands Muslims to spread their religion, but not through the use of force. 

“Only Allah can change people into believers. I’m not Allah,” he said.

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