SCOTT SIMON, host:
It's Ramadan. Thirty days in the Muslim lunar calendar Muslims the world over fast and abstain from drinking, smoking and sex during daylight hours. For most Muslim Americans, the fast is almost routine, but for new converts it can be a real challenge. NPR's Jamie Tarabay went sunup to sundown with a new Muslim to see how she was holding up.
Ms. CAMILLE SHOIEB (Muslim Maryland Resident): Do you want one or two? Do you want some eggs?
Ms. MICHAELA SHOIEB (Muslim Maryland Resident): Yeah.
JAMIE TARABAY: It's pitch dark and still outside Camille Shoieb's suburban Maryland home. The sort of quiet that says the street is asleep and the world has yet to wake up. It's almost 5 a.m. but Shoeib is already in the kitchen divvying up scrambled eggs and cinnamon rolls for breakfast. It will be the only thing she eats all day.
Ms. CAMILLE SHOEIB: Going without food all day, not a problem. Drink, on the other hand, I could drink a six-pack of Pepsi a day, easy, so the drinking part was a little bit tough, to go without the caffeine.
TARABAY: It will be the only meal for Shoeib's 11-year-old daughter, Michaela, too.
Ms. CAMILLE SHOEIB: Oh, I need to print up that letter for your teachers, don't I? I hope her teachers don't have a fit because she wants to fast, so they don't, like, yell at her in the cafeteria.
TARABAY: Children as young as eight can fast if they choose to. Younger children are exempt, as are the elderly, the sick and pregnant women. Shoeib converted to Islam in February, on the same day she married her second husband, an Egyptian. As she beats more eggs into a pan, she says she insisted on being married in a mosque. ..TEXT: Ms. CAMILLE SHOEIB: I didn't belong to any church. Since I can remember, I always had a problem with some of the teachings of the Christians, so Islam - once, you know, I just little by little understanding it from my husband, this totally made sense. So I decided I wanted to convert the same day. Made it a really special day.
TARABAY: Five-year-old Stephanie shadows her mother around the house. She's wearing a bright pink T-shirt and jeans. It's soon time for dawn prayers.
Ms. CAMILLE SHOEIB: I haven't quite memorized everything in Arabic. ..TEXT: TARABAY: Shoeib consults a small prayer book to help her through. Her husband is currently visiting family in Egypt and while he is gone, Shoeib is alone with her three girls. She persuades Maida(ph), the six-year-old, to get dressed. By seven o'clock, Michaela, the eldest, wants to eat again. And that reminds Shoeib of her own potential weak spot.
Ms. CAMILLE SHOEIB: I need to get that Coke out of my room. I'm already starting to feel like I'm thirsty. I was like craving it.
TARABAY: After the girls have gone to school, Shoeib sleeps for several hours. Her day is much easier than Muslims who have to work through Ramadan. Whether they work construction and thirst desperately or sit at a computer all day dying for a coffee and a cigarette.
Ms. MAIDA SHOEIB: Mommy, she gave me a happy face.
Ms. CAMILLE SHOEIB: Because you did a good job.
TARABAY: A couple of hours later, and the girls are home from school. Maida pops on an animated DVD while Stephanie shows off her homework. Michaela admits she slipped just a little.
Ms. CAMILLE SHOEIB: So how was your day? Did you eat?
Ms. MICHAELA SHOEIB: No.
Ms. CAMILLE SHOEIB: Didn't drink anything?
Ms. MICHAELA SHOEIB: Yes.
Ms. CAMILLE SHOEIB: Yes?
Ms. MICHAELA SHOEIB: I had to.
Ms. CAMILLE SHOEIB: That's OK.
MS. MICHAELA SHOEIB: I was at the water fountain for like five minutes.
(Soundbite of laughter)
TARABAY: The fifth-grader says it was hard to get through the day, especially at lunchtime.
Ms. MICHAELA SHOEIB: They were eating in front of me. I put my head down so I wouldn't see the food because I was hungry.
TARABAY: By 6 p.m. Shoeib gets cooking.
Ms. CAMILLE SHOEIB: We've done salad, lamb chops, pasta and a cake. ..TEXT: TARABAY: At one point she catches herself.
Ms. CAMILLE SHOEIB: Oh, that was close! It's so natural, you've got honey on your finger, you lick it. Right? Oh, that was so close!
TARABAY: By sunset the fast is over. Michaela is already digging into her dinner.
Ms. MICHAELA SHOEIB: Hopefully, tomorrow I won't drink anything. It was harder than I thought. Hopefully, God can forgive me when I drank some water today.
TARABAY: As she finishes getting the food ready, Shoeib takes a quick bite for herself, relishing the taste. One more day over. She says it will be nothing short of a miracle if she manages to make it through the entire month. Jamie Tarabay, NPR News.
SIMON: And you're listening to Weekend Edition from NPR News.