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MELISSA BLOCK, host: Parts of the U.S. have been suffering through a heat wave, and it's terrible timing for the nation's Muslims. That's because the month of Ramadan began this week, and Muslims can't eat or drink from sun up to sundown.

Here's NPR's Barbara Bradley Hagerty.

BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY: When I reached Imam Omar Shahin in Phoenix, it was the middle of the afternoon, 105 degrees outside, and he was cleaning the pool in his backyard. The water was so close yet so far.

OMAR SHAHIN: Yes, there's the water in front of me and nobody around, I can do it without anybody seeing me drinking, at the same time, I am controlling my desires, I am obeying the God, even nobody around.

HAGERTY: The cleric says he's been besieged with questions from members of his mosque - landscapers, construction workers, cooks who work in hot kitchens. They ask, what do we do if we need to drink during the day? And Shahin thinks back 20 years, to when he was helping build his house in Jordan.

SHAHIN: And it was maybe at 2 p.m., and I was exhausted. I cannot even breathe for lack of water. So, right away I called my imam, and he said, go ahead now and break your fast. I never forget that.

HAGERTY: So Shahin tells them: Go ahead, drink something. You can fast later in the year, when it's cooler. The same goes for pregnant women, or people who are ill.

But the vast majority are like Abdul Khafid. Khafid, who went by his given name, Eric Monroe, used to play basketball for the Houston Rockets. He competed against men who had plenty to eat and drink before the game. It was then that he realized the meaning of jihad, an internal struggle.

ABDUL KHAFID: That's what I call jihad. That's a fight, trying not to grab a pop out of the refrigerator, and say, forget this fast, I'm getting ready to just, you know, go ahead and drink and eat right now.

HAGERTY: Khafid was trying to establish himself in the NBA, and when he was tempted, he turned to his teammate, Hakeem Olajuwon. The superstar gave him some perspective, telling the young player...

KHAFID: What if you don't make the NBA? What if your dream never happen? Remember, this is a blessed month of Ramadan, where you get closer to God not closer to the NBA.

HAGERTY: Mohammed Amer's work is not quite as aerobic. But the stand-up comic has a physical style, lots of gestures, lots of voices. And for 11 months of the year, his water bottle is practically glued to his hand. Along comes Ramadan and there he is, going on stage when everyone else is sitting down to dinner and drinks.

MOHAMMED AMER: When you do night shows, that's your weakest point. What do you have funny to say? Yeah, I'm going to pass out any moment. People start laughing. No really, I'm going to pass out at any moment.

HAGERTY: Actually, Amer says, he's a little sharper during Ramadan. And he looks forward to it.

AMER: I know it's a test, and it's supremely important that I do it. mostly because I'll go to hell-fire if I don't. I mean, it's really important if you believe in Islam. No, I'm kidding. kind of. I'm kind of joking.

HAGERTY: It's not water that Johari Abdul Malik craves. It's...

JOHARI ABDUL MALIK: Soy green tea latte with a shot of espresso.

HAGERTY: And Malik, a Virginia cleric, says it's not just Muslims who feel the effects of fasting. He recalls running into a barista from the Starbucks near his mosque at this time last year.

MALIK: And the guy said to me, where are all of the people?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MALIK: And I told him, I said, oh, nobody told you it's Ramadan. I said, don't worry, you'll see all of them tonight at precisely 8:24.

HAGERTY: The moment of sunset.

Barbara Bradley Hagerty, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BLOCK: You are listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

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