Muslims learn empathy, control during Ramadan

Khaliq Baig sits in a folding chair up near the front. A hundred men sit on the floor behind him. They bow their heads in prayer.

It's Friday afternoon. It is time for prayers and a sermon.

Anger is bad, preaches the man giving the sermon, Alauddin Alauddin. Charity is good. Love your neighbor. Love your god. Do what is right, and God will reward you.

Muslims, these people say, aren't that different from anybody else. They believe in God; they believe that God handed down commandments, and they believe they have no choice but to follow those commandments.

That's why none of them has eaten a bite of food today, since the sun rose, nor have they taken a drink of water. God has forbidden it during Ramadan. The Muslim holy month began Monday and runs through Aug. 29.

There are exceptions to the fasting for children and the infirm. For safety reasons, too.

"God blesses you with a lot of things, especially in this city," says Baig, a local family doctor who founded this place, the Islamic Information Center, in the months after the 9/11 attacks.

Baig came to the United States in 1971 after he graduated college and to Las Vegas in 1993. Ramadan requires fasting from sunup to sundown every day.

Fasting teaches empathy. It teaches sacrifice. It teaches discipline.

"Most of us don't know how it feels to be hungry, truly hungry," he says. "What does hunger do?"

Adam Shafi says he has been fasting during Ramadan for half his life. He's 19. He has been in Las Vegas since he was 3, when his family moved here from Detroit.

"It teaches you self-control," he says of the fasting. "It's not very hard anymore."

"God says you have to do it," says Yasser Moten, 30.

For him, it's that simple. It's like when your boss at work tells you to do something that you think might be too hard. You do it anyway because you have to.

He says there's a benefit. It's not just about pleasing God. It's about improving yourself, too.

"It gets us out of our comfort zone," he says. "For a person to grow in their careers, in their education, you have to step out of your comfort zone."

It is indeed uncomfortable inside the building with 100 men (the women pray in another part of the building) tightly packed. It's 100-plus degrees outside. The air conditioning can only do so much. The men sweat as they pray. They do not drink water. They are devoted.

As he gets older, Baig says, he starts to fear that the fasting Ramadan requires is getting too hard for him. But then he does it, and he discovers again that it was not hard at all.

The sacrifice, he says, is always worth the benefit. It pulls you closer to God. It makes you realize your own strength.

It helps you understand people who aren't like you.

Contact reporter Richard Lake at or 702-383-0307.