As a sales executive, Azizuddin Abdur-Ra'off knows that taking clients to lunch, shuttling between appointments and filling offices with holiday treats comes with his job of selling class rings and other school items.

But for the last two weeks, the 34-year-old former University of Maryland football star has had another challenge: how to keep his clients happy even though he has been fasting and praying at least five times a day.

"This is time to devote yourself to Allah and to purify yourself," said Abdur-Ra'off, who, with other Muslims, is observing Ramadan, a 30-day period of fasting, prayer and good deeds.

The Islamic month of Ramadan began Dec. 9. It is a time when 1 billion Muslims around the world commemorate Allah's revelation to Muhammad of the first book of the Koran more than 1,400 years ago.

Because Ramadan is in large part about abstinence--Muslims abstain from food, drinking, tobacco products and sensual pleasures from dawn to dusk--the observance is particularly challenging, coming as it does around Christmas and Hanukah, which are notable for food, fun and gifts.

For Fatimah Jackson, a University of Maryland professor who teaches biological anthropology, Ramadan came this year during finals week on the College Park campus.

"It is always difficult to fast when people around you are eating and drinking," said Jackson, who still found a way to get her five prayers in each day between proctoring exams, shuttling between faculty meetings and grading papers.

Jackson, 49, a wife and a mother of six children (five are at home), said it is a challenge that is manageable. "Islam is flexible," Jackson said, adding that when there were conflicts, she just prayed when could. She converted to Islam 22 years ago after visiting Liberia, where she was inspired by the religion and strict way of life.

Elsewhere in Prince George's, Islamic centers in Laurel, Lanham and College Park have been filled with Muslims in prayer.

Salah M. Zaghal, 60, a retired insurance agent who lives in Greenbelt, attended prayer services at the Islamic Center in Lanham. "Every year, Ramadan is time for me to renew my faith. I am thankful for living and witnessing this month again."

Abdur-Ra'off, who was born in Annapolis, was raised by his parents to embrace Islam. After graduating from Maryland, he was drafted by the NFL but was injured. Now a Laurel resident, Abdur-Ra'off is president of Class Stuff, a company that sells items to high schools.

During Ramadan, he moves back and forth between the two worlds.

"You want to try to remove yourself from all of the worldly vices, people talking about each other, lying or cheating," he said. "You want to do good deeds, but a good deed isn't necessarily donating money."

Abdur-Ra'off said he planned to work extra hard to be kind to people even if it meant just giving a stranger a smile. "There are lot of forms of doing good deeds, but you have to think about what your intentions are. I am doing it to please God."

CAPTION: Azizuddin Abdur-Ra'off, in glasses, prays at the Islamic Center of Laurel last week. Below, Fatimah Jackson talks about fulfilling the spiritual demands during Ramadan and the secular responsibilities of being a professor at the University of Maryland.