CHICAGO — A frazzled, home-schooling mother of three, Olivia Kompier has been known to lose her temper when she's well-nourished, but even more so when she's dehydrated or hungry.
That's why the prospect of giving up routine meals during the daylight hours of Ramadan doesn't daunt the Muslim convert as much as the sacred mandate to abstain from arrogance, envy and anger.
When the ninth and holiest month on the Islamic calendar started on Wednesday, Kompier launched her most pious pursuit yet — controlling her temper. She will chronicle her spiritual quest on screamfreemuslims.com, a blog she launched last year after training with the Scream Free Institute, a nonprofit organization based in Georgia that helps parents respond rationally to their children's behavior.
"It blends so beautifully with Islam," said Kompier, 31. "Our religion already teaches us to control ourselves, teaches us to pardon people, teaches us to forgive people, teaches us not to argue. ... It very much coincides with it because the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, taught us how to have the best manners and the best character."
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During Ramadan, Muslims are commanded to fast from dawn to dusk as a show of patience and virtue. The fast not only prohibits eating and drinking during daylight hours, it also forbids vices such as smoking, profanity and ill temper.
Families rise before dawn to pray and share a light meal called suhur in Arabic. They gather again at dusk to break the fast and share a meal called iftar. Muslims who fail to pray five times a day year-round make a concerted effort to do so during the holy month.
But managing one's anger can be especially difficult for parents who are hungry and thirsty from the Ramadan regimen, exhausted from rising early to eat and pray, and trying to love willful children.
"On a normal day, you've eaten, you're well rested," Kompier said. "When you're fasting, you're coming from a different place., You're coming from a hungry, lethargic place, so definitely your emotions tend to strike at you much more sharply. ... If you learn to control your emotions when you're fasting, you're good to go."
Avoiding anger is considered a priority during Ramadan based on the hadith, the sayings of the prophet, and the Quran, the holy book that Muslims believe was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad during Ramadan 1,400 years ago.
"Muslims are asked to elevate and have every single part of their body, even their conscience, to fast with them," said Sheikh Kifah Mustapha, associate imam of the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview, Ill. "Letting go of food and water should really be the training session for how you connect the other parts of the body to fast with you. Fasting is meant to make you a better person."
Abdel Azim Elsiddig, a therapist in Chicago who serves as a life coach for the Scream Free Institute, said he sought out the program as a way to help the Muslim community raise peaceful children. The Scream Free parenting principles, developed by a former Christian pastor, turned out to be a perfect fit.
"For a very long time, we used to think that screaming is a sign of strength," he said. "But in reality, screaming is a sign of weakness. It took me a long time to find a program that would help calm us down."
Elsiddig describes a three-step process that can be done on a full or empty stomach when one starts to feel overcome by emotion and lose their temper: First, pause. Then, think about consequences. And lastly, don't react. Respond.
"When you pause, that's where God exists," Elsiddig said. "That's where you connect with God. When you get angry, you lose connection with yourself. You lose connection with everyone around you. You are disconnected from the universe. You are on your own. That is the weakest point when the devil will hit."
Mustapha said traditional Muslim rituals address that concern and often provide a much-needed timeout. Muslims pray five times a day. But before they do, they pause to wash their hands and feet in a ritual called ablution.
"We have a reference from the word of the prophet. Anger is from Satan, and Satan is made from fire. If someone gets angry, let him do an ablution wash," Mustapha said. "It will put off the anger in him. We believe water, when it is being used as a ritual of preparation for the prayer, it helps calm you throughout the whole day."
Kompier said she has confidence that the scream-free principles will curb her crabbiness during Ramadan. While she has a history of picking fights or lashing out when her children misbehave, she managed to stay calm even during weekly "practice fasts" last month.
"In light of Ramadan, it gives you the tools to make it easier," she said. "When I feel irritable and snappy with my kids, I know what to do ... instead of having a kneejerk reaction."