08/11/2010 02:21 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Ramadan Starts Today: Chicago Muslims Brace For An Especially Difficult Holy Month

Wednesday marks the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, and observing the festival this year will be more difficult than usual.

For many of Chicagoland's roughly 400,000 followers of Islam, Ramadan means fasting from sunrise to sunset. Today, that will span fourteen hours.

The fast isn't always this long. Ramadan is observed according to a lunar calendar, which is roughly ten days shorter than the Gregorian calendar now used throughout the world. So it falls at a different time every year.

Just ten years ago, Ramadan was in early winter, covering the shortest days of the year. A sunrise-to-sunset fast in Chicago would require about nine-and-a-half hours without food during that time.

This year, in addition to fasting for five more hours a day, observant Muslims will have to avoid drinking during some of the hottest and most humid days of the year.

"That's the challenge of faith," Osama Jammal, vice president of the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview, told the Southtown Star. "Regardless of the time of year, people look forward to Ramadan."

But a spokeswoman for the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago told WBEZ that those observing Ramadan this year should take extra care, including eating a healthy meal before dawn.

"In that meal, we are encouraging everyone to lay off the carbs and have more fluids and lots and lots of protein," said Kira Ansari. Proteins, she said will keep followers energized throughout the day, while empty carbs burn up too quickly.

She also encouraged Muslims to take power naps during the afternoon to help get through the day.

The bad news: it will get worse before it gets better. For the next six years, the days of Ramadan will get longer and hotter. Only after the 2016 Ramadan, from June 6th to July 5th of that year, will successive holy months start having fewer hours of daylight.