In the next room, husband Inayat softly recites prayers in Arabic as he stands, bends at the waist, and kneels with his forehead and hands on a floor rug.
Most mornings during the year, the kids - ages 8 to 16 - get to sleep later and make do with a bowl of cold cereal before heading off to public school. But today, they will feast on eggs, pancakes, bananas, strawberry yogurt, cookies, a few Doritos - and lots of water.
Like 1.5 billion other Muslims around the world, including an estimated 12,000 in Charlotte, the von Briesens rise early during this holy month of Ramadan for suhoor. This hearty fare will help sustain them during the fasting they are obliged to do between dawn and sunset.
The family's early morning ritual also includes the first of the day's five prayers, which will be said at 5:30 a.m. in a room that features a long photograph of Mecca, in Saudi Arabia - Islam's holiest place and the birthplace of Mohammad, the 1,400-year-old religion's most important prophet.
At a time when many Americans are suspicious of Islam, with some opposing the building of a mosque near the site of the 9/11 attacks in New York, the von Briesens agreed to let the Observer see how they start their day during this sacred time on the Islamic calendar.
"The media make Islam look dark," says Munira. "I want people to see ... that our life and children are full of light."
Ordinarily, Munira doesn't wear a hijab, or head scarf, around the house. But because of the male guest, she takes 20 seconds to don what many Muslims consider a mode of modesty.
In public, she's covered her hair for 20 years, she says. "I think God wants me to do it," says Munira, who, like her husband, is a white American who became Muslim decades ago. "A lot of women don't wear it because they worry about what other people might think. What God thinks is more important."
Fasting as a family
As wake-the-kids time approaches, Inayat - a former Army Reservist who teaches Web programming at Central Piedmont Community College - helps Munira in the kitchen.
"Chips?" he says, holding a bag of spicy Doritos.
"That's not good for them," Munira answers.
"Everybody loves Doritos," he says, parceling three or so on each side plate. Inayat, who jokes that his kids are "zombiefied" when they first wake, tries to get them going with a treat.
Children who have not yet reached puberty are not required to fast during Ramadan. But the von Briesens want all theirs to fast - not just the two oldest, who are teens.
"Our feeling is to do it your whole life," says Inayat, adding, with a laugh, "like flossing."
But he admits to using presents to first get his children interested in the practice. Their oldest, daughter Noura, started fasting when she was nine. In exchange, she got an American Girl doll - "The mother of all bribes," her father says.
The youngest, son YaSeen, got a toy Smurf each day he fasted.
Muslims say that fasting, which they believe is required by God during Ramadan for all those who are able, has many benefits. It redirects a person's heart away from worldly things, they say, and heightens awareness of God. It also purifies and fosters self-discipline. And it gives those denying themselves a sense of what it must be like for those in need all the time.
"It turns sympathy to empathy," says Inayat, 41.
As parents, they are trying to give their children support, and an understanding of how to sustain day-long fasts and, eventually, grow deeper in their relationship with Allah - the Arabic word for God.
"We're giving them a great foundation to start with," Munira says. "And, hopefully, they'll end up helping other people."
Starting with pancakes
"Hi, guys!" Inayat shouts as he heads up the stairs to rouse his children. "It's that time."
The first one down is daughter Iman, 10, followed by YaSeen, 8, who rubs his eyes as he takes a seat.
Inayat, 6-feet-6, returns to the kitchen, carrying daughter Maryam, 12, over his shoulder.
"What's with her?" Munira asks.
"She's the toughest to get up," replies Inayat.
Maryam shows some life: "I'm tired," she says.
Bringing up the rear are the oldest - first, Mohammed, 14, called "Moby," who's wearing a "NY Jets" T-shirt.
Then, wearing a head scarf, and looking sleepy, Noura, 16, arrives and takes a seat.
"Everybody grab a pancake, please," Inayat says as they settle in for their only meal until the sun goes down.
There's lightness and even some laughter in the air - a morning meal with the whole family present usually only happens during Ramadan.
Maryam leaves, then returns, wearing her green, furry Oscar the Grouch hat, which she often eats and sleeps in.
"I found it at a store," she says, "and Dad said I should get it - it fits my personality."
The conversation shifts to concerns about the two oldest, both students at Rocky River High School in Mint Hill and both scheduled to engage in athletic activity that day.
Without any water breaks.
"I didn't finish the two-mile yesterday," says Moby, who runs cross country.
"Slacker," his dad teases.
"Dude," Moby shoots back, laughing, "I was way behind."
Mother Munira jumps in: "Seriously, if you get shaky, or feel like you're going to pass out, you're allowed to break the fast. Understand?"
Noura has an aerobics class. Her teacher has told her to take it easy if she has a hard time.
"I get really thirsty and I can't go to the water fountain like everybody else," she says.
But, by now, Noura says, fasting during Ramadan has become a habit. And her parents say that she, more than anybody in the family, enjoys the social side of Ramadan: The iftars, or dinners that break the fast, happen at Muslim homes and masjids, or mosques, all over town each night.
"Ten minutes, people!" Munira announces, noting the time left before first daylight - and the start of the fast.
Munira and Inayat met after she placed a singles ad in Islamic Horizons magazine in 1988. She had just become a Muslim.
"18 year old Caucasian Muslim, seeking American or foreign Muslim under 25."
She got 80 responses. Three were from Americans - two guys in jail and Inayat, who was then a student at Georgetown University in Washington.
Munira was attending a community college in Massachusetts.
A year later, after corresponding and talking on the phone, they met. And in 1990, they married.
Today, they are the only Caucasian Muslim couple they know of in Charlotte.
Most American-born Muslim converts are black. It was an African-American Muslim - one of her high school teachers - who led Munira to Islam.
She had been baptized Roman Catholic, but, by 16, she had rejected the Christian idea of a Trinity - God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.
She'd never even heard of Islam, but what the teacher told her struck a deep chord. "It was immediate: I get this. There is one God. I get to keep all the prophets I like. And the head scarf, I could work it out."
Inayat had become a fully practicing Muslim, by his recollection, at 13.
Before that, he had been shuttled back and forth between his divorced parents. He spent time with his mother and stepfather, converted Muslims, in Mecca, where he saw the place where Muslims go on hajj, or pilgrimage.
"I saw people praying all the time," he says. "And they were generous."
At 14, he lived in Egypt, and now says he is Muslim because God wants him to be.
The couple arrived in Charlotte in 1997. Today, he works at CPCC, and she is a Sufi sheikha, a spiritual guide to mystical Islam.
Call to prayer
It's 5:30 a.m., and Moby is in the library/prayer room, calling the others to prayer.
"God is greater," he repeats four times in Arabic.
"Bear witness: There is no deity but the one God," he continues in the language of the Quran, Islam's holy book. "Bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of God ... Come to prayer ... Come to good works ... Prayer is better than sleep."