Not sure exactly what day Ramadan starts this weekend? Call Winnipeg's first -- and only -- Ramadan hotline.
With the beginning of the Muslim holy month of fasting dependent on the sighting of the new moon, local Muslims want to be sure when it begins, says the president of the Manitoba Islamic Association, which installed the hotline earlier this month.
"Each year people are anxious to find the starting date and the mosque phone lines are jammed," explains Idris Elbakri.
Ramadan most likely begins today, Saturday, June 28, but the date was not confirmed by deadline.
In reality, the hotline at 204-977-6994 is just an ordinary office telephone at the Grand Mosque on Waverley Street. Callers hear a recorded message of announcements and an invitation to leave a question for a religious counsellor. Elbakri says a team of experts will return calls as quickly as possible.
Although the association posts information about Ramadan events on their Facebook page or sends it out by email, this confidential telephone line also gives Winnipeg's Muslims a low-tech way of getting information, says Elbakri.
"We're trying to offer a service and we're trying to be accessible to all."
During the 30 days of Ramadan, healthy adult Muslims fast between sunrise and sunset. For Winnipeg Muslims, that means about 18 hours without food or drink, with the first meal of the day around 3 a.m. and fast broken this weekend after the 9:42 p.m. sunset.
Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam, along with the declaration of one God and Muhammad as a prophet, daily prayer, charity to the poor and making a pilgrimage to Mecca.
Elbakri anticipates the hotline will also field calls about who should or shouldn't fast, and how to fast during the long days of a Northern Hemisphere summer.
"If someone has a questions specific to their situation, one of our members will call them back."
Hotline team member Dima Al-Sayed expects to answer some of the concerns around fasting, relying on her expertise as a graduate dietitian. One recurring question she's faced is how to break a long fast.
"My most important advice is hydration," says Al-Sayed, an association board member who plans to write exams this fall to qualify as a registered dietitian.
"My advice is to take only small sips of water during those hours even if you don't feel thirsty."
She also suggests people eat balanced meals containing all the food groups, and to avoid the temptation of eating a full meal right after sunset. And her best advice? Listen to your body, and don't feel guilty if you can't abstain from food and water on long, hot summer days.
"It is difficult and that is why it is recommended people know their limits. Only healthy people are required to fast," she says.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women are also exempt.
"It is important that if a person notices they are getting dizzy or extremely lethargic, they can break their fast and make it up later."
The hotline may also field calls from people interested in touring the mosque or learn more about Islam, says Elbakri.
"What I've seen sometimes is Muslim employees will ask us to help them clarify issues to their employer," he says.