faith: Men kneel in prayer during a previous Ramadan at the Islamic Educational Center of Orange County. The center, the only mosque in Costa Mesa, gets about 300 people for prayer, its imam says. (KENT TREPTOW, Daily Pilot / July 25, 2012)

Refraining from food and water all day during Ramadan is not that bad.

That's because we still get to eat twice — just before sunrise and again after sunset.

There's "iftar," which is the breaking-of-the-fast meal at sunset. But there's also "suhoor," which is a light meal Muslims eat before sunrise to be able to withstand not eating during the day.

Right now, the fast starts at about 4:20 a.m. in Southern California. The time varies, depending on location.

In Islam, suhoor fall into the category of "sunna," which means it's recommended. Sunna in Arabic means "the way of something." In general, when Muslims say sunna, it means following the way of the prophet.

When I was little, a guy used to walk our street with a drum and a little song in the middle of the night to wake up people for suhoor. That happens throughout the Arab world.

Most, but not all, Muslims get up for suhoor. Some people's work schedules don't allow them to get up in the middle of the night to eat and then go back to sleep before going to work.

Some just were never used to waking up and don't do it.

I'm one of those people.

My mom never gets up for suhoor and never woke me or my sister up when we were little, and so I don't do suhoor. Besides, I'm not really a breakfast kind of person.

If I happen to get up before sunrise, I usually drink water. If I'm already up late, like on many weekends during non-Ramadan time with my friends, then I'll eat something.

In the Middle East, restaurants are open throughout the night during Ramadan. Restaurants along Brookhurst Street in Anaheim, a section of Little Arabia, are bustling during iftar and suhoor.

Ramadan is not about feasting in the middle of the night or spending money on a variety of foods, but these are cultural aspects of this month and they have been mixed with its spirituality. It is important to draw that distinction.

Like iftar, which is usually a joyous gathering between family, friends and neighbors, suhoor serves as a great bonding time with your closest family members.

Affad Shaikh, a Muslim American of Pakistani descent whom I know from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, left his Newport Beach apartment for the month to spend Ramadan with his family.

Affad, 29, recently quit his job and is attending law school. He's out for the summer, which presented the perfect opportunity to spend Ramadan with his parents and younger brother and sister in Palmdale for the first time in a few years.

The family's alarm clocks go off right at 3:30 a.m., the lights go on and all members of his household gather in the kitchen for fried or boiled eggs. Mom prepares Paratha, which is like Pakistani tortilla that Affad and his brother like to eat with honey and dad prefers with banana. Affad makes himself a protein shake.

When the food is ready, everyone sits together to eat, talk and laugh. Affad said they talk about the news, about their plans for the day. Because their dad leaves to work at 5:30 a.m., it's a great chance to spend time and talk with him in the morning.

"I definitely appreciate being with family for suhoor," he said.

Once the family is done eating, they get ready to pray Fajr, which is the first prayer of the day. They also read the Koran and then, Affad said, "I'm usually knocked out."

"During Ramadan, we're kind of forced to sit as a family because of the time constraints," he said. "It's very communal. You get to come together to do these things."

You see, the benefits of Ramadan are endless. It's not just about worshiping God, character building, giving to the needy and refraining from food. It's also about eating together. It's about community.

MONA SHADIA is a reporter for Times Community News. An Egyptian American, she was born and raised in Cairo and now lives in Orange County. Her column includes various questions and issues facing Muslims in America. Follow her on Twitter @MonaShadia.