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Ramadan At Work In Bergen County Means No Food, No Coffee, Just Faith

Ayesha Yousuf, 20, sees her hunger as a test of her faith in God. She will fast for 30 days of Ramadan all while working at her family's Route 17 restaurant Phat Platters in Paramus. Photo Credit: Cecilia Levine
Naheed Yousuf works at Phat Platters in Paramus. At sunset, she will break her fast with dates and water and then pray. She will then have a meal, and pray again before bed. She will wake up before the sun rises to pray and eat, and then do it again. Photo Credit: Cecilia Levine
"The smell is so good," said Mohammed Shah, who works at Juicy Platters in Fair Lawn. "I was a customer and then I started working here because I liked the food so much." Photo Credit: Cecilia Levine

Ayesha Yousuf of Paramus hasn't had food or water since sunrise.

She will spend her day preparing meals for others in a hot kitchen, on her feet -- unable to eat the food or drink the liquid that she will be serving customers at Phat Platters on Route 17 all day.

The 20-year-old will do this for 29 more days because today, Thursday, is the first day of Ramadan.

The 30-day holiday in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar commemorates the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad. Two important factors are fasting and charity work.

Yousuf says the first few days of Ramadan are the most difficult for her, but it gets easier as her body adjusts to the new routine -- her faith ultimately pulling her through.

"Giving away your hunger is testing your strength with God and believing is what gives you strength," said Yousuf behind the counter of Phat Platters.

"Working around food doesn't make a difference when you have that mindset. It is a spiritual time for us to connect more with God."

Yousuf has been fasting since she was 10 years old, before she worked in the restaurant industry. She has fond memories of watching and helping her mother, Naheed Yousuf, prepare food to break her fast with for Iftar.

"My parents did it and their parents did it," Yousuf told Daily Voice, her mother next to her in the shop. "It is tradition.

"You look forward to making food," she said, "even though you can't taste it."

Mohammed Shah, who works at Juicy Platters in Fair Lawn, likened Ramadan to Christmas for many Americans.

"Everyone is happy," said Shah, 27. "Everyone is eating together at night and that doesn't happen when it's not Ramadan."

He anticipates that fasting at work will prove difficult, though.

"The smell is so good," he said. "I was a customer and then I started working here because I liked the food so much."

Shah and Yousuf both emphasized that fasting lends itself to the charity component of the holiday, better understanding how those without access to food regularly might feel.

"Even though I'm not strict or very religious I do it for my body," Shah said. "And for God."

Juicy Platters owner Jaffar Wahdat says fasting is as spiritual as it is physical.

"Once a year, you're changing your routine," said Wahdat, who also has a Hackensack location. 

"We're so used to getting up in the morning and having a cup of coffee, and we can't.

"But we still have to go to work, run a business or be a parents. We have to try to function normally with a lack of calories. And you have to dig deep to try to find that focus."

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