Approaching the summer solstice, the next 10 days will test the strength of Muslims in the Quad-Cities and across the Northern Hemisphere.
During Ramadan, which began May 26 and ends June 24, those in good health abstain from any food and drink, including water, from sunrise to sundown each day.
While the extended daylight hours in June pose an extra challenge to individuals observing the Islamic holy month, devout Muslims try not to break from their daily grind.
Take East Moline resident Essobou Ouro Gnao, for example. He balances two jobs to support himself and his family in Togo, a small country in West Africa sandwiched between Ghana and Benin.
The 47-year-old, who goes by Amin, works from 2:30 p.m. to midnight Monday through Friday at the Tyson Foods animal slaughterhouse in Hillsdale, Illinois.
After catching about five hours of shuteye, he logs onto the Uber app and chauffeurs people around town for a few hours to supplement his income.
“The money I make at Tyson is not enough for me, so I need to have a second job,” said Ouro Gnao, who has lived in the Quad-Cities since 2005.
Between gigs, he tries to rest.
This month, however, his sleep schedule is way off.
'It's not easy'
Ouro Gnao said he woke up about 3:30 a.m. Monday for his pre-dawn meal of lamb and rice, a dish prepared by Sudanese friends he knows from the Islamic Center of the Quad-Cities in Moline.
About 18 hours later, Ouro Gnao said, his employer lets him break his fast at dusk with a small snack, which usually consists of dates and water.
“When it’s hot like this, you have to be very strong,” he said, “but it’s not easy.”
A sleep-deprived Lisa Killinger, president of the Muslim Community of the Quad-Cities in Bettendorf, can relate.
Every night during Ramadan, she attends an evening prayer session at her mosque off Kimberly Road, which ends about midnight.
“It has gotten easier over time, but one thing that remains hard is the lack of sleep,” said Killinger, who converted to Islam in 1979. “I don’t work out during the day, and I take a nap as often as I can after work.”
Because Islam is based on a lunar calendar, the start of Ramadan on the Gregorian calendar varies each year, usually starting about 10 days earlier than the previous year. It will take 10 years for the holiday to return to the shorter days of February and early March.
Favorite month for some
Although the long gaps between meals and disrupted sleep cycles can take a toll on people, many Muslims look forward to this month more than any other time of the year.
“It’s a great opportunity for Muslims to uplift their spirituality, become more connected to the mosque and their community,” said Imam Saad Baig, director of religious affairs at the Islamic Center of the Quad-Cities.
In addition to fasting and increased worship, Ramadan also encourages acts of charity.
Congregants at the Bettendorf mosque are collecting nonperishable items for area food pantries, which Killinger said develops empathy.
“You will not forget the hungry if you’ve fasted,” she said. "It's what we do."
In Moline, Baig hopes Muslims with the means to donate funds from their savings keep in mind the ongoing construction project at the mosque off 34th Avenue.
The much-needed expansion will add a multi-purpose gymnasium to the property, said Baig, who hopes crews can wrap up the work by the end of the year.
To celebrate the end of Ramadan, close to 1,000 Muslims from as many as 30-40 countries will gather on Sunday, June 25, at the Bettendorf mosque. Following morning prayer, attendees will break bread together in daylight for the first time since late May.
Those "times of closeness" remind Killinger why Ramadan marks her favorite month of the year.
Home away from home
Sporting traditional West African clothing, Ouro Gnao recently looked back on his time in the Quad-Cities.
His story represents one that many immigrants in the area can relate to.
Ouro Gnao emigrated from Africa in 2004 on a diversity visa. The Diversity Immigrant Visa Program is a lottery for citizens of countries that have low immigration rates to the United States. Up to 50,000 visas are given out annually through the program.
He lived in New York City for a year before moving here in 2005 for his job at Tyson.
Since arriving in the U.S., the devoted husband and father from afar said he has visited his wife and four children five times.
“They miss me, and I miss them a lot," said Ouro Gnao, who has not yet secured his U.S. citizenship.
In the coming years, he hopes his family, whom he speaks with every day, will join him in the Quad-Cities.
Throughout the past decade, Baig said Ouro Gnao has become an "important" member of the community, one who serves as a resource and role model for others transitioning their lives here.
During tough times, he said he leans on friends from other African countries, including his native Togo, Burundi, Congo and Somalia.
"Our Muslim community is a very great community because we help each other," he said. "It's like back home."