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Two pillars . . . Couple Ramlah Jusoh (left) and Ani Noh, who were the first people to arrive in Oamaru's Muslim community decades ago, enjoy the company as it grows. PHOTO: RUBY HEYWARD

Ramadan is about a lot more than just fasting.

Oamaru Islamic Centre president Ahmed Elsaka said it was a time of empathy and generosity, and all about self control, spiritually and psychologically.

“It makes it feel like you can overcome anything,” Dr Elsaka said.

“People feel closer to God.”

From sunrise to sunset, Muslims do not eat or drink during Ramadan.

There was often a misconception that people were forced to fast or that it was unsafe and unhealthy, he said.

“Safety comes as a priority [and] people can break the fasting.

“No-one will put themselves or others in danger.”

Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic Hijri calendar and is the fourth of the faith’s five pillars.

The other pillars include a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, and giving a fixed portion of income to charity.

During Ramadan, the Oamaru Islamic Centre is filled with people enjoying dates and delicious meals every night after sunset.

The gatherings are finished with the Taraweeh prayer, which only occurs during Ramadan.

Generosity . . . Oamaru Islamic Centre members enjoy each other’s company with full bellies after spending the day fasting. PHOTO: REBECCA RYAN

For Nadia Akter Bithi, Ramadan was about helping one another, and feeding those who went hungry no matter what race or creed.

“Kindness just comes out from everyone at this time,” Mrs Bithi said.

Her husband Shahin Miah always felt proud of himself and refreshed after the holy month.

This year’s Ramadan started on April 13, after careful calculation to correspond with the new moon.

Each year, it coincides with the lunar cycle, and runs for 29 or 30 days depending on the moon’s visibility.

Fasting is made tricky for Muslims living in areas of the world where the sun sets later and fasting is prolonged.

“When I was [living] in the UK the days were very long,” Dr Elsaka said.

However, exceptions were made for people living in these circumstances, and for those who were unwell, elderly, had an physically intensive job, or were pregnant.

Fatini Zulkifli is three months pregnant and said she would take breaks from fasting as she needed to.

As an alternative to fasting, people could give a meal to someone in need.

In fact, part of the holy month was about experiencing hunger and evoking empathy for those less fortunate, Dr Elsaka said.

The last day of Ramadan will be May 13 or 14.