Ramadan Mubarak

The holy month of Ramadan is set to begin. 

The Muslim rite is recognized as one of the five pillars of Islam and marks the month when the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Mohammed — peace be upon him.

Islam is the second largest religion in the world and Ramadan is observed by hundreds-of-millions of Muslims every year.  

During Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to sunset, abstaining from food, water even sex during the daylight hours.  

"The reason we don't eat or drink or have intimate relations with our spouses is that self-sacrifice," says Muhammad William Saleh. "I am doing this to be self-disciplined in the rest of my life." 

There are several hundred Muslim families living in the Okanagan.

Saleh converted to Islam nine years ago. 

He was raised in the Okanagan. 

Growing up, his family was never what he would consider religious. 

The idea of religion and faith was just kind of a non-thought. 

"Growing up, I spent a lot of time observing things," Saleh says. "I was the kind of kid that sat back and kind of watched the situation to see how things would unfold."  

Like many of his generation, Saleh was first introduced to the concept of Islam through the media on Sept. 11, 2001. Prior to that event, he knew nothing of Islam or Muslims in general. 

He, like a lot of people following the attacks, carried a negative connotation about the Islamic religion and its followers. 

Saleh carried those views until he met a young woman while working at Future Shop in Vernon. 

The young woman began sharing her views on Islam with Saleh. 

"I was curious because the perception she was putting forth was completely contrary to everything I heard or everything I understood about Islam."

Saleh began studying Islam to find what he calls "the truth." 

"I wanted to know which side was right. Who was telling the truth and what is it all about."

Saleh calls that the spark that pushed him towards trying to understand Islam.

That young woman is now Saleh's wife. They now have children. They have built a life together, at the heart of which is Islam. 

He says it provides him peace and clarity and purpose. 

Saleh says today, there isn't an aspect of his life that doesn't somehow relate back to the teaching of the Quran and the five pillars of Islam, one of which is fasting, especially during the time of Ramadan.

"For me, it is about the appreciation. When you don't eat and you don't drink you appreciate the food that you have and the water that you drink at the end of the day so much more than you ever did before." 

However, Saleh explains that Ramadan is so much more than just fasting.

"So much about Ramadan is about the individual," says Saleh. "First and foremost, fixing my own shortcomings. Secondly, it should be taking care, in the best manner, those people who are closest to me and then from there it branches out."

This Ramadan, Saleh says the Muslim community plan on reaching out to Vernon's homeless. 

"It is about making you more thankful for what you have, and it is certainly about making you more responsible in terms of taking care of those people who don't have anything," he says.

He says a lot of times society passes by the people on the street as if they are ghosts.

For Muslims Ramadan is the time of inner reflection, as well as to reflect on the Quran and its teachings to better themselves, their families and their communities.

Despite having nearly two-billion followers around the world, Islam is still very much misunderstood

In western culture, it is often referred to as an oppressive and archaic set of beliefs.  

In Vernon, he says he sees it all, he's had discussions with the curious ones, the argumentative ones, the shy ones and the ones who just want to know more. 

"Depending on how out there you are in terms of society, with the community, you will be asked a lot of questions and some of them are basic questions, some are intriguing questions and some of them are really dumb questions," he says with a chuckle.

In Canada, however, Saleh says people are accepting of the religion. He feels free to worship and pray as he sees fit.

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