July 19, 2014 at 1:00 am

A time for fasting, families

Ramadan turns night into day in Dearborn

DearbornMaha Nassar’s grocery cart is piling up with enough food to feed 20 people.

But she cannot sample even one cherry inside a plastic bag because she’s fasting.

Nassar, with her two young sons in tow, is observing Ramadan, the annual month when Muslims worldwide refrain from all food and beverages, including water, from sunup to sundown, or for about 18 hours. The observance varies during the Muslim calendar; this year, it began June 28 and ends July 27.

“I don’t eat a lot anyway, so I feel fine,” Nassar, 24, of Dearborn, said Thursday amid rows of fresh produce, desserts and a massive olive bar inside Super Greenland market on West Warren. “But I’m expecting at least 20 people tonight when we break the fast because it’s tradition to gather with family.”

West Warren usually pulsates with customers inside the numerous Middle Eastern markets, restaurants and bakeries during the day.

But on a bright, sunny afternoon, the streets and shops were virtually empty. Muslims who fast and pray during the day, wait until evening, late evening after they break the fast, to fill the shops, often buying meat pies, lentil soups, fattoush, breads and traditional Ramadan desserts until 5 a.m.

With so many observant Muslims living in Dearborn — where about 30 percent of residents are of Arab descent — businesses are closing later, opening earlier or both during the holy month.

Some popular bakeries, including New Yasmeen and Golden Bakery and Restaurant on West Warren, remain open 24 hours a day during Ramadan to accommodate their fasting customers.

Amal Berry, who is fasting, said she was at the Golden Bakery and Restaurant earlier this week at 2:30 a.m.

“I was buying meat pies and cheese pies, and it was quite crowded at that time of the morning,” said Berry, 56 of Dearborn. “It’s not unusual to see so many people shopping at that hour.”

Accommodating customers who observe Ramadan extends beyond the shops. During the observance, the HYPE Athletic Community, on West Warren in Dearborn Heights, extends its hours, allowing those seeking a workout to hit the treadmills.

“This is our second year doing this (because) many people, both Muslims and non-Muslims, enjoy the late night program,” said director of operations Bilal Amen, who takes advantage of a late-night workout since he, too, is fasting. “We have even thought about keeping this throughout the year, maybe a couple days a week.”

During Ramadan, the athletic center is open from 6 a.m.- 9 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 8 a.m. - 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, reopening each day from 11 p.m. - 2 a.m.

Back at the Super Greenland market, the hours are not extended so employees can leave a bit early to break the fast with family, but customers can take advantage of special sales on traditional foods used during Ramadan, including dates, olive oil and jallab, a sweet date-filled drink. Or they can save $100 on a whole sheep, plus rice, hummus and fattoush, for $399 instead of the usual $499.

“That is a very popular dish, especially for those with large families,” said Mona Alaouie, cashier manager at the market and Ramadan observer. “Since Ramadan began, we’ve already sold about five or six whole sheep.”

At New Yasmeen Bakery, customers selected from traditional Middle Eastern soups, salads, meats and vegetarian dishes, as well as from shelves in glass cases brimming with tarts; sahlab,a sweet pudding; kalaj, a pastry stuffed with cream cheese; and cakes and breads, among other delicacies.

But manager Tarek Seblini, who is observing Ramadan, is not tempted. In fact, he said he has lost 35 pounds since the beginning of Ramadan, and feels better than before the fast began.

“It’s more than just fasting,” he said. “Ramadan provides us an opportunity to feel what it’s like to be poor and starving, like millions of people in the world, so we can, hopefully, be more generous toward others.”

Seblini said he remains open during the day, unlike many smaller bakeries that close down and reopen at night, to serve his non-fasting customers.

“We have to satisfy everyone,” he said.

Down the street at the Golden Bakery and Restaurant, owner Hussein Hammoud said they’ve remained open for 24 hours a day during Ramadan since opening in 1988.

“We have more people in here at night than we do during the day, but the business evens out since we’re open all day,” said Hammoud. “People come in hungry and are looking for treats like fried kibbee,” which is made of a grain, minced onions and ground meat, similar to a meatball.

But Imam Husham Hussainy, spiritual leader of Karbalaa Islamic Education Center in Dearborn, emphasized the greater meaning of Ramadan.

He said it is a chance to socialize and get together to break the fast.

“With the situation in the Middle East, things are very hot, very terrible and people here have a chance to have tea and talk about it when they break the fast,” he said. “And every night, before we break the fast, there is a program in all the Islamic centers where speakers come from around the world to speak to us, which is like a spiritual maintenance; it helps us maintain our spiritual system.”

He also talked about the sacrifice of fasting.

“It’s a chance to sacrifice some of the things you like to have for the sake of the creator,” said Hussainy, also fasting. “One reason we fast is to feel the need of millions of people around the world.”

Patrons visit Shatila Bakery in Dearborn after sunset during Ramadan, the month of fasting and reflection for Muslims. / Photos by Bryan Mitchell / Special to The Detroit
Rasmich Faraj packages up sweets for a customer at the Shatila Bakery one ... (Bryan Mitchell)