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As Ramadan begins, Minneapolis makes life a little easier for Muslim businesses

MinnPhoto by Ibrahim Hirsi
Muslims pray at Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center in Minneapolis.

One spoon at a time, Abdirahman Mukhtar finished his plate of rice and chicken Wednesday afternoon at the Geeljire Grill in the Palestinian-owned Karmel Square mall in south Minneapolis.

“This will be my last daytime meal for the next 30 days,” Mukhtar said with a big smile. “No food or water for long hours.”

Thursday marks the beginning of Ramadan, a month of fasting from dawn to dusk with deep reflection and intense prayers for Muslims throughout the world.

In Minnesota, Mukhtar and more than 150,000 Muslims will have to endure summer’s longer hours and hot temperatures, which could make observing Ramadan more challenging.

And it might bear specific challenges for Muslim athletes, like the youth soccer team that Mukhtar coaches every Tuesday and Thursday at Currier Park in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood.

“It could be hard on these kids,” he explained. “It’s going to be difficult for anybody to be very active while fasting.”

Difficult or not, Mukhtar was quick to say that it’s an exciting time for Muslims everywhere to see this month. “It’s a blessing to be able to live this month,” he said. “It’s a month of forgiveness, humility, humbleness, charity and reflection.”

He added: “It’s also a blessing that we’re observing Ramadan in this country. Imagine those living in Syria, Burma and Yemen. In China [according to reports], Muslims are banned from fasting during Ramadan.”

Staying open late

Meanwhile in Minneapolis, an amendment authored by Minneapolis City Council Member Andrew Johnson allows businesses outside of downtown to apply to remain open past their legal hours for special events.

Although the new law isn’t unique to one community, it allows Muslim-owned restaurants and other businesses to accommodate the community during Ramadan.

Ilhan Omar, senior policy aide to Johnson, said many Muslims flock to restaurants to break their fasting after sunset — but that doesn’t give them enough time to eat because many businesses in residential areas are required to close their doors by 10 p.m.

This was difficult for both Muslim customers and businesses owners, she said. “A lot of businesses … had financial difficulties of operating their businesses,” Omar said. “They’re only able to operate 30 minutes to an hour [a day] for a whole month and are still required to pay taxes and their employees.”

She added: “[Muslims observing Ramadan] were lacking opportunities where they could find places to break their fast because the businesses are closing. So a lot of businesses were out of compliance for getting citations for operating longer than they’re supposed to. And that also caused another financial burden.”

On Wednesday, Omar said she received many calls from business people with questions about the application, which allows businesses to remain open for “certain uses and structures which have only a seasonal or temporary duration such as community festivals, fresh produce stands and temporary promotions by permanent businesses.”

Spiritual healing

Except for young children, the elderly, people with medical conditions and women who are pregnant, breastfeeding or menstruating, Muslims around the world are commanded to fast during the month.

“For me Ramadan is a moment of reflection and spiritual healing,” Mukhtar said. “A time to remember the hungry and appreciate the things we take for granted in life.”

On July 17, Muslims throughout the world will end the fasting month with Eid al-Fitr, a festive celebrating the sacrifice and the achievement of those who observed Ramadan.

Ibrahim Hirsi can be reached at ihirsi@minnpost.com. Follow him on Twitter at @IHirsi.

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