Ramadan, When Less Is More

By Dina ElBoghdady
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 8, 2006

Ashraf Sarsour was at an obligatory business lunch for a longtime client when he got what he describes as "the look."

Table by table, his co-workers made their way to the buffet. But he remained seated, his stomach rumbling. A waft of fried chicken filled the air. Forks and knives clinked. Waiters filled and refilled water glasses to the brim. And he sat, acutely aware that he'd become an oddity. Patience, he kept telling himself, patience.

Oooh, then he spotted the sweet potato pie, his favorite. Patience.

"Ash, what are you doing? Go eat, man," one colleague urged him.

"Thanks, but I'm fasting."

"Uh, well, here, have a drink."

"It doesn't really work that way."

The exchange last year was like many others Sarsour has had during Ramadan, the holy month when Muslims fast from dawn to sunset every day. His Christian friends know about Lent and his Jewish friends fast on Yom Kippur. But the duration and rigor of Ramadan -- underway this month -- baffle many non-Muslims and make the ritual a curiosity in the working-lunch /coffee break /water cooler office culture.

"From most people, I get the look that says, 'Why are you doing this to yourself?' " says Sarsour, 30, as he drives home to Alexandria from the D.C. office of BearingPoint Inc., where he is a program management consultant. "I get a double look, up and down, because I'm so skinny already."

Then come the questions:

Not even a sip of water? (No.)

Can you chew gum? (No.)

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