While visitors to Atlantic City enjoy its usual summer attractions, area Muslims are two-thirds of the way through fasting for the month of Ramadan.
It is a time of reflection and sacrifice, but people still have to make a living. Many of them own or work in shops on the Boardwalk or work in casinos.
Shopkeepers working late hours say they often bring food to work in order to break their fasts on time, which this year is after 8PM most days.
Traditionally, the fast is broken with a few dates and some water before praying the evening prayer, and many workers prostrate on clean, beautiful prayer rugs at the backs of their shops.
Muslims who work on casino floors and in restaurants have more difficulty breaking their fasts on time, especially during busy mealtimes, but rolling chair operators and housekeeping staff say they take turns giving each other breaks to eat and pray before heading right back to work.
Working around so much food and a constant partying environment can be challenging as well. Many feel a conflict working in the gambling industry, but others say, “It’s the best work in Atlantic City if you want to make a decent living, this time of year especially.”
For those who don’t know, Ramadan is the month when observant Muslims around the world fast from just before sunrise to right after sunset for 30 days. It is based on a lunar calendar so Ramadan, the ninth lunar month, travels through all the seasons, beginning roughly 10 days earlier each year. This year, approximately 3,200 adult Muslims in Atlantic City began fasting on July 21 after sighting the new moon.
Children sometimes fast from candy, TV or lunch, practicing for the day when they will observe the complete fast.
Ramadan is not a celebration month as some mistakenly suggest, but a month of self-restraint, reflection and extra devotional and charitable acts in order to strengthen one’s God consciousness.
The celebration comes at the end of 29 or 30 days once another new moon is sighted and is called Eidul Fitr, meaning a return to one’s natural state.
Atlantic City has a large population of immigrants from Muslim or majority-Muslim countries, like Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Egypt and Ghana, and their numbers are large enough that in a sense, they’ve formed small communities of their own.
African-Americans make up about half of the Muslim population.
There are at least four masajid (mosques) here where any Muslim can go to pray, but many immigrants have duplicated an atmosphere of “back in our home country” in their respective masjid to preserve cultural traditions.
During Ramadan, however, you’ll find many Muslims visiting all of the various masajid for prayers and Iftar (break-fast meal) in a spirit of universal brotherhood/sisterhood.
Even Muslim visitors to Atlantic City sometimes seek out a masjid for prayers and Iftars during Ramadan.