Wednesday, 17 October 2018

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Ramadan fasting reaffirms faith for Northwest Florida Muslims

By Troy Moon, For Pensacola News Journal, On 14 May 2018, Read Original

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Omar Jacobs, only 8, picked through sprigs of fresh mint, placing the best pieces on the cutting board for his mother, Rachida Jacobs, to make tea

"If you come to a Moroccan house, you're going to be served tea,'' said Ron Jacobs, the family patriarch, as he and the couple's other two children — son Hamza, 16, and daughter Seham, 14 — talked with guests while waiting for the family favorite drink, a sweetish-tea with just enough mint for a yummy contrast. 

It's a hot tea on a hot, Molino mid-day, so Seham puts a little ice in hers. 

But the days will only get hotter. And soon, Seham and her family will have nothing to drink when the sun is overhead. Not even hot tea. And they definitely won't have the Moroccan cookies Rachida Jacobs served with the tea. Except for Omar, who because of his age, isn't required yet to observe Ramadan, one of the five pillars of Islam for all adult Muslims.

Ramadan begins Wednesday and ends June 14, and for adult Muslims in Northwest Florida, across the country and around the globe, they'll observe the holy month — the ninth month of the Islamic calendar — by fasting from dawn to sunset. No food. No water. No sustenance. 

"Omar might try,'' his father said. "Omar might make it until noon. He might go to noon for a few days. Then it's off to watch cartoons."

But for the rest of the family, it's a reaffirmation of their faith — as Ramadan is when Muslims believe God revealed the first verses of the Koran to the Prophet Muhammad.

The family will eat and drink each morning before dawn and after sunset, but not when the sun is overhead.

"That can make for a very difficult day for kids who are playing football and softball,'' said Ron Jacobs, a retired Navy senior chief and president of the Al-Islam Dawah Center, a mosque at 1550 Barrancas Ave. in Pensacola.

Sure enough, Hamza is a defensive end for Northview High. Seham, who is finishing her days at Ernest Ward Middle School, plays center field for her softball team. 

There might be some spring practices for Hamza, but he said he tries to hydrate before sunrise to keep him strong during the day. He said his coaches are understanding and accommodating of his faith and fast.

 

 

Seham said this will be the first year she's playing softball during Ramadan.

"It's kind of tough because you get hot and thirsty,'' said Seham, whose name means "Arrow." "But you keep going."

When she was younger — puberty is when must Muslims begin observing Ramadan — she didn't quite understand why she couldn't eat or drink during the day.

Still, she tried to fast as best she could.

Her father said his daughter first attempted to fast at age 9.

"Girls are tough,'' he said with a warm smile.

Seham, like her mother, wears a hijab — a head covering — that is customary for many Muslim women in the presence of men other than their husband or immediate family. Now, she understands her faith and the reason for self-sacrifice.

"I would always ask my Dad the reasons,'' she said. "But now I understand. It makes you feel closer to God and it connects you to your religion."

Ron Jacobs has two adult children from his marriage from his first wife, who is deceased. It was his elder daughter who introduced him to Islam after his retirement from the Navy. He grew up in a Christian household on a farm in Louisiana. His wife Rachida is from Morocco and came to the United States in 2001 and was soon introduced to Jacobs.

 

The family lives on a farm in rural Molino, where they raise various cattle, sheep, chickens and goats. All the animals are eventually killed in a ritual slaughter that includes shouting the Islamic name for God — "Allah." Other aspects of a ritual slaughter include using a sharp knife to drain the blood of the animal quickly, which results in more hygienic meat.

At the end of Ramadan, the Jacobs and other Muslims will celebrate Eid al-Fitr — the Feast of the Breaking of the Fast — with meat from the family farm. The celebration also usually includes giving gifts to the children, the wearing of perfume and new clothes, and even shopping. 

 

"It's a celebration,'' Jacobs said. "Think of it like Christmas time."

On Aug. 21, area Muslims will celebrate another Eid — Eid al-Adha, known as "Feast of the Sacrifice." It commemorates Abraham's — or Ibrahim to Muslims — willingness to sacrifice his son to God.

Jacobs said many area Muslims will come to his farm for the August celebration to participate in ritual slaughter. Jacobs will purchase additional animals for the Eid and one-third of all the meat slaughtered must be given to the poor, as Islam prescribes charity — or "zakat" — as one of the five pillars of Islam.

"It's incumbent for us to look after the poor,'' he said. "And we do. Each of us will make a ritual slaughter and give one-third to the poor. It is a celebration of the pact that Abraham made with God.... And at the end of it all, we party."

Troy Moon can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and 850-435-8541.