Muslims fast for many reasons, including becoming more self-disciplined and spiritually stronger. Through fasting, one of the five pillars of Islam, they also build fellowship with other Muslims.

Aisha Shaikh’s earliest Ramadan memory is one of thankfulness.

She remembers her first fast, around the age of 10. It lasted just a few hours, but she recalls the joy she felt when she broke the fast with her family.

“It was an accomplishment for me,” the 37-year-old Rock River Valley resident said. “I felt very secure and very happy.”

Muslims in the Rockford area are preparing for a month of fasting from dawn to dusk, spiritual reflection and prayer. The ninth and holiest month on the Islamic calendar begins Monday and continues through July 5.

Those who pray at the Muslim Community Center and Mosque, 5921 Darlene Drive, expect their prayer space to be more crowded than usual.

Attendance at the five daily prayer times could reach 300 compared with an average 200.

“It’s something that draws people of faith closer to God, and there’s a greater, deeper spiritual reflection,” said Arshad Shaikh, the Muslim Association of Greater Rockford’s president and Aisha Shaikh’s husband. “It’s a very festive time of year.

“At sunset, there is a very warm atmosphere where everybody gets together.”

Muslims fast for many reasons, including becoming more self-disciplined and spiritually stronger. Through fasting, one of the five pillars of Islam, they also build fellowship with other Muslims. Many Muslims tend to eat a large meal called suhoor just before dawn. They break their fast with dates and water when the sun sets, following the example of the Prophet Muhammad, before a proper evening meal — or iftar — with family.The faithful fast from all foods and drinks — and even chewing gum.

Arshad Shaikh reminisced about past Ramadans that include reciting from the Quran, Islam’s holy book, during the evening.

“It’s a very remarkable time throughout the world,” Shaikh said.

He and his wife are lifelong followers of the Islam faith. They have four children, whom they prepare for Ramadan by sharing their own experiences.

They also train their children’s “hearts” so they “choose to be kind (and) they choose to give to those who are less fortunate,” Aisha Shaikh said.