At 2 a.m., the shuttered streets of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, were mostly deserted. But inside a persimmon-colored cafe on Fourth Avenue, there was the clinking of backgammon and chess. A man came around with hot coals for the bubbling water pipes, whose tobacco sweetened the air with flavors like citrus mist and grape and orange vanilla.
Mohamed Ali, 40, a New York City cabdriver, sat on a carpet-upholstered couch, smoking a water pipe as a television showed an Egyptian soap opera. It was Wednesday, and Mr. Ali was debating whether to stick around until 3:40 a.m. to eat a pre-dawn meal — beans and falafel, cheese, yogurt and bread — or go home and eat with his roommate.
Back home in Cairo, he would be celebrating the Muslim holy month of Ramadan with his family. There, the cool nights are festive, with streets strung with lanterns, tapestries and banners.
Late at night in New York, even in Bay Ridge, the heart of Brooklyn’s Arab community, there are few public signs of the holiday, which began July 20 in New York, and which observant Muslims mark by fasting from dawn until sunset.
Yet on the quiet streets, there are pockets of togetherness. Arab-style coffee shops stay open until 4 a.m., each capturing the feel of a different Middle Eastern country. For teenagers, there are stoops and street corners, and a Greek-owned family doughnut shop that opens at 3 a.m., to give them a place to eat just before the fast begins again at dawn.
“I feel Ramadan here,” Mr. Ali said inside Beit Beitak (Your House Cafe), where he sat with several other cabdrivers. “I see the people, I see the shows. It is like my country.”
Staying up through the night during Ramadan has a long history. Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, was said to stay up to pray after his fast, and many Muslims try to follow his example.
There are practical factors, too. Delaying sleep until after the dawn prayer, about 5 a.m., helps Muslims keep the daytime fast — during which no eating, drinking or smoking is permitted — at a manageable length, particularly when Ramadan falls during the 16-hour-long days of a New York summer.
“We are like bats during Ramadan,” Sarah Salem, 17, said after prayers, her hair wrapped in a fashionably tied white scarf. “The whole entire day changes.”
This year, practicing Muslims in New York are breaking their daily Ramadan fast with a festive meal about 8:15 p.m. (the time gets earlier as the month progresses). After a few hours of eating, and in some cases visiting Arabic sweet shops, many attend special nighttime services at which the Koran is read, from 10 to 11:30 p.m.
On Tuesday, the late service at the Islamic Center of Bay Ridge attracted hundreds of men, women and children, and a carpet of prayer rugs was laid out on the sidewalk to accommodate the overflow, which stretched nearly to the marquee of a multiplex next door. After the reading, some people stayed for more prayer, some headed home, and some, mostly men, headed out.
At Beit Haniena, a bare-bones Palestinian social club near the mosque, clusters of men played Conquian, a kind of rummy, keeping score on pads (but not betting, because gambling is forbidden in Islam). “To tell you the truth, it’s better off to stay with your family and go home at night, but sometimes we sneak,” said Mashur Abu Hamda, 72. He planned to drink qamar ed-din, a thick, sweet, apricot concoction that is supposed to stave off thirst, before dawn, and to stay up until about 8 a.m.
The Gulf Cafe, run by a Yemeni businessman, had a more tentlike feel. Sofas and heavy curtains lined the dimly lighted purple room, and young men’s faces reflected the glows of their smartphones. Ramadan greetings flashed on a television screen.
Musalam Alkhras, 23, an English-language student from Saudi Arabia, was relaxing with two friends. Back home, he would be with his relatives, but “without family, it is very hard,” he said. At 3 a.m., the three paid their bill and headed to a takeout restaurant for something heavy to eat before the dawn prayer, “like rice with chicken or lamb,” Mr. Alkhras said.
By 3:15 a.m., as some older men drank coffee outside the cafes, a trickle of young teenagers in T-shirts and track pants began to materialize out of the darkness. Jon Kanatarellis, the morning man at Mike’s Donuts across the street from the mosque, was ready for them.
His family-run shop, around since 1976, normally opens at 4 a.m. but opens an hour early during Ramadan. “Out of respect,” Mr. Kanatarellis, who is not Muslim, said as he laid out the trays of shining doughnuts glazed with chocolate and vanilla icing and decorated with sprinkles. ‘They are kind of like family.”
The teenagers wandered in, chatting about their night as they ordered crullers, bagels and cream cheese.
They brought a liter of orange juice and bottles of water — because, they said, it’s the thirst, not the hunger, that is hardest during a fast.
Some had stayed late at the mosque, helping as volunteers. Others had spent the night hanging out on stoops, or playing X-Box or Play Station. There was still about an hour before the mosque would hold its dawn prayer, and then they would sleep. Not bad for a summer night.
“Ramadan is the most excitingest month,” said Mahmoud Fayad, 14, looking to his friends. “Right?”
Source: The New York Times