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Young Local Muslims Talk Ramadan in Sin City

Starting May 5, some 18,000 Nevadans will be celebrating Ramadan, a holy month when Muslims fast from sun-up to sun-down, and generally avoid sinful speech and behavior.

So, how do two young Muslims, one a freelance writer and the other an Islamic scholar, navigate observing Ramadan in Las Vegas, where gluttony and excess rule?

“I was raised in this Muslim bubble." UNLV student and Desert Companion contributor Summer Thomad, told KNPR's State of Nevada, "I wasn’t necessarily exposed to all of that from a young age. I guess as I’ve gotten older and having just turned 21 in Sin City I guess it’s become a little more of a challenge being in proximity to everything.”

Thomad said observing the holy month presents a challenge when trying to make arrangements with friends so, in general, she avoids it. 

“It becomes burdensome to plan around my schedule if I’m only able to eat after sundown and that’s kind of a late time for dinner,” she said.

Because Muslims follow the lunar calendar, Ramadan moves 10 days ahead each year, which means sometimes the fast is done in the winter and sometimes in the summer. Thomad admits that it can be tough in the Mojave Desert heat.

She grew up in Las Vegas but says she's never been interested in the aspects of the city that might conflict with her faith. 

Nasser Karimian, the resident scholar at the Islamic Society of Nevada, said that while others might see a conflict between faith and the nature of Las Vegas, he doesn't.

“Islam isn’t supposed to exist in some sort of utopia,” he said.

Karimian said Islam is a system to help imperfect people get through flawed lives. Plus, he added, people who indulge their every desire may eventually come to a point of saturation and look for a new direction, which is where faith can step in.

"You can reconcile our role here in Las Vegas as people who offer the alternative, if you will," he said.

Karimian explained that Ramadan is a celebration of Muslims receiving the word of God. It is a chance, he said, for the community show gratitude for that by increasing their worship through fasting, prayer and reciting the words of the Koran.

“You do one-thirtieth every night and then after 30 nights, you complete the entirety of the book. And it’s a way to connect back to the holy book. It is a way to purify yourself during the day time by feeling the pangs of hunger and basically exercising self-restraint,” he said.

In Las Vegas, the holy month is celebrated by mosques opening their doors for Iftar, the nightly feast to break the fast. Karimian said mosques in other cities around North America might open their doors for the feast on weekends, but in Southern Nevada it is every night, which is unique.

Karimian said he has had many conversations with non-Muslims about faith and God during those meals at Las Vegas mosques. Although, not everyone is there to talk religion.

“Every once in a while, you might get the impression that they’re here because, look, it’s a good meal," he said, but that is understandable, because the food is good.

It is those discussions that Karimian hopes everyone has during Ramadan. He encourages Muslims to have an open dialogue about their faith, why they're fasting and what they believe. 

Ramadan ends with the celebration known as Eid al Fitr. Usually, each mosque holds its own celebration, but Karimian said this year plans are underway to hold one large joint celebration at the Cox Pavilion. 

He said law enforcement is pleased by that idea because it makes it easier to secure one place instead of several.


From Desert Companion: Open Topic: Heaven or Las Vegas

Summer Thomad, UNLV student and Desert Companion contributor; Nasser Karimian, resident scholar, Islamic Society of Nevada

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Desert Companion welcomed Heidi Kyser as staff writer in January 2014. In 2018, she was promoted to senior writer and producer, working for both DC and State of Nevada. She produced KNPR’s first podcast, the Edward R. Murrow Regional Award-winning Native Nevada, in 2020. The following year, she returned her focus full-time to Desert Companion, becoming Deputy Editor, which meant she was next in line to take over when longtime editor Andrew Kiraly left in July 2022.