NEWARK -- Ramadan is a yearly time of self-sacrifice and generosity, during which Muslims for a month go without food and drink during daylight hours while refocusing attention on God and others.
Though steeped in centuries of Islamic tradition, Ramadan's daily rituals present modern challenges for Bay Area Muslims, including Silicon Valley employees and other professionals who must balance hectic 21st-century schedules with fasting nearly 17 hours each day.
Many cope by slowing down and doing a little less of everything, which dovetails with Ramadan's spirit of self-restraint, said Zain Ali, who worships at the Al-Medina Education Center, a Newark religious school and mosque.
The monthlong observance -- one of Islam's five key components -- calls on Muslims to let go of personal grievances, give up bad habits, and grow closer to family, friends and God.
"During Ramadan, every part of the body is restrained," Ali said. "It's not just about food and drink, it's also a time of refraining from bad thoughts, words and actions."
This year, Ramadan will run from Saturday to July 28, during some of the longest days of the year. Worshipers are asked to avoid food and drink from 4 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. each day. For sustenance, they must rise early to eat before dawn or wait until nightfall.
"It will be harder this year because of the long days," Ali said. "The closer it is to summer solstice, the more difficult it gets."
That leads some to practical strategies to get through it, such as practicing fasting a few days per week in the months leading up to Ramadan, said Omar Bellal, president of the Al-Medina Education Center.
The temporary hunger felt during a fast helps remind Bellal that millions of people go hungry every day. Al-Medina collects food throughout the year to donate to the needy during Ramadan, when charity is especially encouraged, he said.
California's mild weather helps, the Union City resident said. "I grew up in Algeria, where the humidity made me very thirsty and there was no air-conditioning," he said. "Here, it's much easier."
Regardless of the climate, rewards come to those willing to endure the sawm -- or, the daily fast, Bellal said.
First, Muslims have the celebration and relief of the nightly iftar, when families gather to eat after sunset. Secondly, they earn a sense of accomplishment from observing rituals such as taraweeh, the nightly prayers.
"When done willingly for the sake of God, it can give you a big boost," he said.
Some stay indoors to avoid dehydration, especially in the fast's first week, when people still are adjusting, said Moina Shaiq, an Alameda County Human Relations Commission member who worships at the Islamic Center of Fremont.
"It's difficult at first, but knowing that you're doing this for a higher power gives you patience and it helps you," she said.
"In the last 10 nights, especially, we stay up as long as we can to pray, repent and thank God for all his blessings. We give even more because the level of spirituality is so high."
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.