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Seattle's Muslims are spared the crushing heat that's synonymous elsewhere with a mid-summer Ramadan, but the timing of this year's observance means the daily fast

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UW Students Observe Ramadan With Community Iftars

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Seattle's Muslims are spared the crushing heat that's synonymous elsewhere with a mid-summer Ramadan, but the timing of this year's observance means the daily fast doesn't end until around 9 p.m.

"This will be a Ramadan we'll never forget," says Samah Imtiaz, an active member of University of Washington's Muslim Students Association.

During Ramadan, which started last week, Muslims refrain from eating and drinking between sunrise and sunset. Each day's fast concludes with an iftar, or festive meal: The menu varies by country and family custom, but it's a cross-cultural tradition to break the fast with something sweet.

"I usually have whipped cream," Imtiaz says. "It's amazing."

At the Muslim Students Association's community iftar -- a public event held on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays throughout Ramadan - volunteers distribute dates before the buffet table is declared open. "The general rule is to break your fast with water and dates to give you energy," explained Muneera Al-Ajra, a Saudi student whose family marks the end of a fast with a salty oatmeal sometimes called "Ramadan soup."

"Sometimes we add chicken or meat and some vegetables," Al-Ajra says. "It's very easy to digest."

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The first taste of food after a fast - whether it's the tuna noodle casserole that one student prepared when the association wasn't hosting an iftar, or the halal hot dogs that Imtiaz's younger brothers eat - is considered especially significant. According to Imtiaz, prayers made during "that little time period" carry extra weight.

Since the Muslim community is extraordinarily diverse, Imtiaz says the group can't precisely replicate the spreads that students might enjoy at home. Their buffet choices are limited by the number of certified Halal caterers in Seattle, so the menu generally rotates between Thai, Indian, Pakistani and Middle-Eastern foods, supplemented by couscous, breads and desserts contributed by participants.

On Tuesday, Garam Masala catered a meal of chicken korma, basmati rice, chickpeas, naan and kheer. Imtiaz crumbled brownies into her cupful of kheer: "I'm so full, but I just want to keep eating," she said.

At the iftar, participants sit around blue and green plastic tablecloths arrayed on the floor - men on one side of the buffet line and women on the other. "We have to figure out ways to make everything accessible and comfortable for everyone," Imtiaz says of the students' efforts to accommodate various interpretations of Muslim law.

Still, organizer Ahsen Nadeem says what's on the table at Iftar might matter more than the seating arrangements.

"As long as there's enough food, it's good," he says.

Ramadan ends on Aug. 18.

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