At a Westview mosque called Masjid-al-Rahmah, it's not just the adults who are fasting this month for Ramadan, but many of the 83 children attending the adjacent school.
Muslim adults must fast during daylight all month to receive forgiveness and blessings from Allah. The children at the private, Muslim Al-Rahmah School school next door fast voluntarily.
Ramadan, which falls this year in February, marks the revelation of Islam's holy book, the Koran, to the Prophet Mohammed -- a process that began in 610 and took 23 years. The observance through fasting began in 625.
For Sheema Hai, 10, the fasting has meant waking up in her western Baltimore County home at 4:30 a.m. each day since Feb. 1, when Ramadan began at dawn. She eats a meal, then does not drink or eat anything until night comes.
Sheema usually breaks the fast at sunset by eating a date, as the prophet did, then some roti (a type of bread) with curried vegetables and meat. She plans to continue the daytime fasting until the first day the moon is visible and Ramadan ends -- Thursday or Friday.
"The first day is kind of hard because you're not really used to it, and your stomach starts hurting like anything," she said in her classroom Thursday.
But three weeks into fasting, it has become easier, she said. "I feel OK. My throat is kind of sore, and I want some water, but I don't really care because it doesn't really hurt that much."
Hanifah Matumla, 8, whose parents are from Tanzania, is observing the Ramadan fast for her second time, even though it is not mandatory until a child reaches puberty.
"They wanted to try it," said Fatima El-Sheikh, a teacher of Arabic who came to the United States from Sudan in 1978. "They wanted to feel it. They see their parents do it."
Getting children like her own 11-year-old daughter out of bed so early in the morning generally is not difficult, she said. "They are sleepy, but they know they are getting up to eat, so they get up."
Last week, Mrs. El-Sheikh reviewed Ramadan with her class: It falls in the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar and starts with a crescent moon. As an act of obedience and submission to Allah's commands, fasting offers mercy, atonement for sins and errors and spiritual purity.
At the school that goes up to fifth grade, those fasting include two kindergarten students. Several Baltimore-area doctors said fasting is not dangerous for healthy children as long as they eat daily.
Masjid-Al-Rahmah (Arabic for "blessed place") on Johnnycake Road serves about 500 active families. Most have roots in Pakistan or Egypt; others are from Tanzania, Sudan, India, Saudi Arabia and Romania, and between 10 percent and 20 percent are American-born black people, according to the school principal, Sani Ari, 29, who is from Nigeria.
There are about 1 billion Muslims around the world. Locally, there are about 1,500 active Muslim families in the Baltimore area and 5,000 statewide, according to Maqbool Patel, president of the Islamic Society of Baltimore.
The society is based at a compound set far back from the road which includes the school, the mosque (currently being expanded), four townhouses where some Muslim families live, and a trailer that houses a classroom and an administrative office.
The religion requires that girls and women cover their heads with scarves and wear clothes to their wrists and ankles. Sheema and the rest of the girls in her class had scarves pinned at the chin or folded around their foreheads and draped down to their shoulders.
According to Muslim practice, there is no physical contact between unmarried or unrelated men and women, so when a woman attempted to shake his hand, Mr. Ari, the principal, apologized with a smile and said, "I cannot touch you; I have no relationship with you."
Qudsia Lodhi, a member of the mosque and administrative secretary of the Islamic Society of Baltimore, said of Ramadan, "We should not say bad things or tell lies or back-bite or [do] social evils that most people do."
The last 10 days of Ramadan are especially crucial, Mrs. Lodhi explained, because there is one night during that period when Muslims receive the rewards of 1,000 months worth of prayer. Because Allah does not reveal which day it is, they have to pray in earnest all 10.
And pray they do. On Friday, cars overflowed from the Masjid-al-Rahmah parking lot onto nearby streets. For midday service, attendees took off their shoes outside the mosque's main hall, and men bowed on the floor during parts of the service while women and children prayed in the basement.
On Thursday, students piled into the hall with some adults for about 10 minutes of prayer between classes. After a reading in Arabic from the Koran, worshipers called back responses, made prayers to Allah of thanks and asked for forgiveness. The children knew when to get up, sit down, kneel, bow and be quiet.
When Ramadan ends, a celebration called Eid-ul-Fitre begins: Muslims break the fast -- often with a pudding called Sawaiyan -- then pray, feast, and exchange visits and gifts with friends and relatives.
Usman Khokhar, 11, said, "We wear good clothes, we should be real happy on that day; it's a special day. We get lots of presents -- clothes, games, toys."
The celebration can last as many as three days -- a joy that will come after the sacrifices of this month. In the meantime, the fast continues, and as 10-year old Farees Syed put it: "It's hard."