Ramadan a time for 'togetherness,' Dearborn family says

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News
Mirvat Kadouh, right, co-chair of the Ladies of the Islamic Center of America, helps Houssam, 8, left, and Ali, 5, Baalbaki, of Dearborn Heights, make a traditional cookie called “kaak” during a marathon baking session at the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, Michigan on May 5, 2019.

Between a busy schedule running a real estate agency, Mirvat Kadouh recently stopped eating and drinking for long hours.

The Dearborn resident wasn’t required to. But with Monday marking the start of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month in which worshipers fast daily from dawn through dusk, she wanted to prepare her body.

Though the first few days can be difficult, especially without the caffeine she normally craves, decades of following the ritual have taught her to appreciate its rewards.

“Once your body adjusts, it becomes a blessed month,” the mother of three said. “You feel the sense of celebration.”

For Kadouh, her family and many other Muslims in southeast Michigan, launching a sacred time central to their faith means rearranging routines and mapping out plans to avoid indulgences. The goal: to become better people and closer to God.

“Ramadan is always the most important time of the year for spiritual renewal, irrespective of what’s going on in our society and around the world,” said Dawud Walid, executive director at the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ Michigan chapter.

Some 20 volunteers craft 3,000 pieces of bread and over 1,800 cookies for the start of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, at the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, Michigan on May 5, 2019.

The Kadouhs are balancing spiritual heights as the holy month extends through early June.

Mirvat Kadouh can check prayer times at the Islamic Center of America, the mosque where she is heavily involved, on her phone. 

Her 24-year-old son, Radwan, who attends culinary school, sets aside at least a few minutes each day to read part of the Quran, hoping to finish the entire holy text by the time Ramadan ends.

The verses offer guidance and inspiration, he said. “It’s soothing to get you through the day."

His mother, a Metro Detroit native born to Lebanese immigrants, also plans to read the Quran and reflect on its passages while juggling her job and daily duties.

On some days, she expects to fulfill another requirement of the month — charitable efforts — by helping prepare meals for those in need through her mosque.

In all, the acts aim for intense reflection and, hopefully, a fresher perspective on the world.

“We try to do a lot of soul searching to improve our spirit,” Mirvat Kadouh said. “The whole purpose of Ramadan is to have self-control and to sense how the poor live. ... You just hope that you’ve done as much as you can to be very charitable, to be kind to people, to have patience.”

That attitude guides the family — which includes her husband, Abed, and two other sons, Ahmed, 19, and Hussein, 28 — as they struggle through the warming spring days refraining from food or drink between sunrise and sunset.

Loaves of Middle Eastern bread, dusted with zaatar, sit cooling hot from the oven as some 20 volunteers bake 3,000 pieces and over 1,800 cookies for the start of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, at the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, Michigan on May 5, 2019.

Radwan Kadouh credits some of his endurance to encouragement from siblings, cousins, friends and others in the community who are also wrestling with thirst, hunger and headaches. The satisfaction of conquering temptation — a key theme in Ramadan — is another. 

“You feel the thirst and the hunger, and it hurts sometimes, but you know you’re doing it for a good reason,” he said. “It’s really just mind, body and soul and relaxing.”

Like other families in the area, the Kadouhs go all out prepping for a Ramadan centerpiece: the iftar, the evening meal that breaks their fast. 

To spread their table with customary items — dates, lentil soup, fattoush —  and entrees becomes a communal affair for a clan whose typical schedules rarely allow dinners where everyone is seated together at the same time.

“It’s not one person making the meal and cleaning,” Mirvat Kadouh said. “All our hands are in it.”

On some evenings, the family is slated to join Mirvat Kadouh’s parents at their home in Dearborn, where the iftar can lure more than a dozen relatives for grape leaves, kibbeh and other favorites.  

“We get a chance to sit together and enjoy a true family feast,” Radwan Kadouh said. “That’s probably the best part of all of it. The general idea is togetherness.”

Later this month, the family plans to attend a community iftar at their mosque. The longstanding tradition typically draws hundreds of members and others, including international students unable to return home for the holiday, said Kassem Allie, executive administrator at the Islamic Center of America. 

Like other festivities centered around fasts during the holy month, the gathering, reinforces bonds, he said. “Fasting is an opportunity for people to reflect on their faith, who they are, how they really are related to the rest of their communities. People wait the whole year for Ramadan to come so they reconnect.”

Radwan Kadouh anticipates another local custom: visiting restaurants and businesses staying open around the clock for customers seeking dessert or goods to pad their “suhoor,” or pre-dawn meal.

“The city is fully awake at night,” he said. “Everyone is energetic and revitalized.”

The college student is excited about a venture that builds on the late-night rendezvous: the second annual Ramadan Suhoor Festival. Scheduled to run from 11:45 p.m. – 4 a.m. every Friday and Saturday during the holy month, at Hype Athletics in Dearborn Heights, the event features more than 20 vendors, including LaFork, BeaverTails Mobile Detroit and Butter Bear Shop, run by Amanda Saab, who appeared on “MasterChef,” organizer Hassan Chami said.

The festival is attracting interest from residents unfamiliar with the holy month traditions, he added.

“It’s a way for us to create unity in the community,” said Chami, who co-owns HealthPro Pharmacy. “We hope for people to come out and break bread with their neighbors and enjoy the time. It’s very important for us to build bridges.”

Whatever Ramadan brings, Radwan Kadouh is eager to go through what he calls “one of the highlights of the year.”

“You come out of this month feeling so good about yourself, physically and spiritually,” he said. “It helps you.”