Monday, 1 August 2011

Ramadan Twenty Eleven

So it begins. The month long fast. The month which Muslims look forward to and worry about in equal measure.

Today starts a month whereby Muslims will refrain from eating and drinking, and generally all round sinning or satisfying the appetites, from dawn til sunset. Each day about an hour before dawn begins we will wake and eat our morning meal, imbibe as much caffeine as we possibly can before making the verbal intention to fast for the sake of the pleasure of the One God. After that is said, no thing shall pass our lips, neither inwards nor outwards, that would consistute as 'forbidden'; no nourishment for the body, no sin from the depths of our soul, and we stand guard, vigilant over ourselves, like soldiers ready to puncture any wrong doing before it takes hold of our body and soul. And we pray. More than usual. In fact, we put ourselves through spiritual rehab - reforming, training, breaking bad habits and getting our souls into shape, to behave the way we ought to be behaving all the time.

To those outside the believing fraternity this all sounds like a month of sheer obscure hell, the result of an extremism of fervour, misguided blind faith or some subconscious desire to punish ourselves. In truth, for those who practise fasting in the prescribed manner, it is actually the exact opposite, like being washed from the inside-out, like a stone, previously unperceived, has been lifted from our hearts and backs and something altogether more subtle and precious is allowed to breathe.

For most (all) of the time we satisfy our animal appetites without question; we eat when we are hungry, drink when we are thirsty and spend our life chasing one desire after another, like monkies swinging from tree to tree following the fruit, without any time to stop, reflect, refrain, and become master of our own selves. We are led like cattle by the nose by our own animal appetites, and insofar as we are led by them we remain defined by them :: we are no more than the animal we succomb to.

But there is something else; that small quiet voice that is all but drowned out by our wordly affairs, that yearns and belongs to another realm altogether. The spirit. The soul. The true self. That spark of intuitive knowledge, the Knowing Self which recognises truth, that glimmer of light that pulls us out of the dumb world of beasts and into the divine world of knowledge and creation. That precious element of our being gets a chance to shine and breathe and grow in this month, for it is said that when the body is weak the soul is strong; when the animal appetites have been brought under a reign the true self, unshackled at last, can soar.

I remember my first ever Ramadan. I wasn't a Muslim, I was very much a Christian, and I have no idea why I fasted, but I did. It was then that I realised that religion is not a set of beliefs, not a dogma to agree to and sign up to, but it was a tool to purify the self, to raise oneself in dignified living so that we could approach the One God as purified and dignified as we could - to somehow polish the dirty mirror that we usually are so that we reflect the Divine Light into the world. Whatever polemic existed then for me, fasting made it all irrelevant, as irrelevant as trying to find the sun using a lamp. Truth stands clear from error.

It was an intensely spiritual time for me, being at university and having no more to do than whatever it is that took my fancy. I fasted the whole month of Ramadan and, not wanting it to end, fasted Lent too (which fell a week later) - the whole forty days. In fact, that whole year I spent fasting one and off. You would think that I would be glad to shake off the restrictions and spend the rest of the year making up for lost time, but far from it.

This is a month that cannot be replaced, so for those of you who are fasting, don't waste a second of it. Feed the soul and purify yourself. As we know, this world is no more than a test, a fleeting illusion, a bridge from one realm to the next. Pass over it quickly and remember your true destination.

From God we come, and to God we return, and we take nothing with us except our deeds.

Set the soul free.


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  1. SubhanAllah, Jameel!!! Ramadhan Kareem.

  2. Ramadhan mubarak.

    I've used parts of your post to explain Ramadan to my (very) confused family. I think they're still confused but your post offer some lights.

  3. khair mubarak. mine dont get it either, but if you dont have that belief then its like trying to explain a rainbow to a blind man. "And the blind and the seeing are not alike".

  4. I absolutely loved your description of Ramadan - thank you for this post. I would love to learn how you manage your schedule during Ramadan - I live in the states and with 2 preschoolers and a full-time job - the past 2 days has been tough to focus due to lack of sleep and caffeine. We have almost 15 hours of daylight - I get up at 3am to prepare suhoor and prayers and have to be at work by 7am - come home by 5pm prepare iftar at 8 30 pm and off to bed by midnight - dont know how to manage the rest of the month - any advice?

  5. Oh goodness, sister, I feel for you! In India my husband saw Muslim women working in the construction industry carrying BRICKS up ladders in ramadan and in the Emirates people welding in 45*C all day long. I have no idea how people survive these days.

    Can you take any holiday?

    Since we homeschool our ramadan days turn upside down - we stay awake late but sleep late too. I dont know how I'd cope if I were you.

    In our dua

  6. I so want to read your Ramadhan post. Tomorrow morning InshAllah. We're having almost 17-hour fasts these days and with three little ones can be tough. I find, though, that once the caffeine is out of my system I can somewhat function, I'm getting there.
    May you have a blessed Ramadhan! In my house we call Ramadhan the reset button; it does reset our lives... we'll be lost without it, subhanAllah!

  7. Oh I cant function WITHOUT caffeine!!

  8. How is this true "fasting"? You are not depriving yourself of anything at all accept a semblance of schedule. Hardly a sacrifice at all, let alone a true fasting.

    By your own admission, you change everything about your life, staying up late, sleeping in etc. It is a self contradicting social event for Islam that you have deemed as somehow 'reverent'?

    You say you sacrifice to fast, but yet you purposely change your life completely ("upside down" are your own choice of words to describe the total change of lifestyle...) to limit the amount of time that you actually don't eat. A true religious fast with spiritual implications means a sacrifice of something that denies the body what it normally desires in order to draw us mentally and spiritually towards a focus on God as opposed to our 'flesh'. Sleeping til noon so that you are awake the shortest amount of time before you can eat (at sunset) is hardly a sacrifice, it's more like a farce. Your taking what your "faith" prescribes as an event to show your reverence and commitment to your God "Allah" (clearly not the God of the Bible), and turning it into a joke that you structure to fit your schedule best so that you have to sacrifice the least. Hardly showing reverence or respect to your "God".

    I've seen Ramadan as it is celebrated in Islamic lands. Things 'sort of" continue on as normal as possible during the day, but the night time, rather than becoming a time of thanks and reflection, becomes a gigantic party and feast. Debauchery ensues (under the cover of darkness), and behind closed doors....

  9. Hey, Anonymous! I bet your "God" of the Bible is really proud of you right now! Way to go with the love and acceptance that He preaches!

  10. You've got to love the anonymous posters. I think this is a wonderful post D, and really demonstrates how Ramadan is not a symbol of sanctimony and piety - like a badge to prove to the rest of the world that you're more religious than them and can judge the hell out of them from a very ugly high horse. It's about God, family, community and spirituality. It's always refreshing when people are honest about the way they practise their faith and are realistic about the changes that need to be made to ensure things go as peacefully as possible. It's not a copout, it's sensible and still ensures you feel the benefits over the month.

    You highlight the three types of change that occur during Ramadan - one is the change that needs preparation: setting alarms, making sure food is in the house, working out meal plans and prayer schedules, the second requires personal effort and self-awareness: trying to be pure of heart and mind, not back-biting and the like, the third - a blessing - occurs naturally: you start to prioritise without a second thought the things that your mind needn't concern itself with. Whether from a spiritual journey or lack of food (or a mixture of both), your mind and body just won't let you worry about petty things like rudeness from compete strangers, because it has plenty more important things to focus on. I'm always encouraged by people of faith who aren't under the illusion that sacrificing everything and showing off about it constitutes piety. People who are humble and realistic and try to share their experiences rather than dictate exactly what others should be doing.

    Somewhat less inspiring than your post is Anonymous using the practices of a whole nation as an argument against one individual's right to fast. Makes as much sense as say, questioning the point of Lent by using the behaviour of the whole of the population of Italy to formulate an argument. I'm not fasting so I reserve the right to be as sarcastic as possible when I say 'there are some really advanced debating skills on display here'.

    Clearly Debbie, you're obviously not self-flagellating enough. Apparently "God" (sorry, i think the speech marks are "contagious". darn, i did it again...) wants you to be in complete and utter pain to show Him respect and reverence. Next time remember to prove to people how much you love God because it's up to them to believe you, not Him. Of course.

    But you know, I'm a fan of the Bible, so let's all love our neighbours eh? oh, and I know I'm now guilty of this, but let's not feed the trolls.

    All my love and Ramadan Mubarak. I think you're super woman xxx

  11. Yey for friends who make me laugh over trolls who hurt hearts !! :D

  12. Wow. I have never heard anyone explain Ramadan so beautifully. We fast in my religion the first Sunday of the month. I love it, too. Not as hefty as your fast of course, but the concentration on the spiritual and denying the physical is a very purifying experience. Prayer is a huge part of it as well. We also give a monetary fast offering...the price of the meals we fasted to give to the poor and needy or humanitarian purposes. We fast and pray for an individual purpose, usually. For example, for family members specific trials, for righteousness to prevail in our country....etc. Do you fast with an individual purpose in mind? I love the purity of your soul that you explained. THank you for explaining it so I can understand it more. It is a wonderful sacrifice. ; )

  13. Yey! Somebody who really *gets* it. Usually when we fast it has to be solely with the intention of pleasing Allah with no alterior motive, but Ramadan is by no means the only time Muslims fast and the individual can fast whenever they choose (apart from the Eid celebration). It is recommended for Muslims to fast the middle three days of the month, each Monday and Thursday, various 'big' days in the calendar etc etc.

    In addition to fasting in the last ten days of Ramadan people are encouraged, if they are abled to at no inconcenience to dependents, to go into a retreat - that is, have absolutely no contact with the outside world and just pray FO' REAL. That is heavy duty, but the spiritual experiences of it are major. And there was no prophet of God who drew near to Allah, or received any message who didnt first have to fast. (Moses had to fast forty days AND nights - yowza).

    And yes, charity is something else we go big on too. Lovely to hear another person's beautiful way of life, thankyou so much for sharing.

    Much love

  14. Beautiful post sis, and interesting comments too. ive linked to it on my blog, insha'Allah you dont mind - let me know if you do...
    Aqeela xx

  15. I enjoyed reading your thoughtful explanation here of Ramadhan and what it means to you. I came over from Aqeela's blog. There is a beautiful Biblical passage about fasting in the book of Isaiah (most of Isaiah 58) that I think might be an encouragement to all who fast, whatever their religion, to draw closer to God and to please Him. It's a bit long to quote here but anyone can Google it. Here is a small portion:

    "If you get rid of the yoke from those around you, the finger-pointing and malicious speaking, and if you offer yourself to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted one, then your light will shine in the darkness and your night will be like noonday. The Lord will always lead you, satisfy you in a parched land, and strengthen your bones. You will be a watered garden and like a spring whose waters never run dry."

    It seems to me God will do that for those who offer His love to others in these ways so that they can continue in bringing His good to the world and perhaps also inspire many more to do the same. Can you imagine what this world would be like if more and more of us sought Him above all else, every day? Many will scoff at the idea, but many are also attempting to do just that.

    I would like to share a paragraph here that I found is focused on Christian fasting and it is what I aspire to as a Christian, but I believe it can also be applied to any who truly seek God with all their hearts (because all who truly seek Him will find Him):

    Christian Fasting - A Lifestyle of Servant Living
    Christian fasting is more than denying ourselves food or something else of the flesh - it's a sacrificial lifestyle before God. In Isaiah 58, we learn what a "true fast" is. It's not just a one-time act of humility and denial before God, it's a lifestyle of servant ministry to others. As Isaiah tells us, fasting encourages humility, loosens the chains of injustice, unties the chords of the yoke, frees the oppressed, feeds the hungry, provides for the poor, and clothes the naked. This concept of fasting isn't a one day thing - it's a lifestyle of servant living for God and others.

    "Then your light shall break forth like the morning, your healing shall spring forth speedily, and your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and He will say, 'Here I am' (Isaiah 58:8-9).

    I love that!

  16. Yes we follow the way of all the prophets, this is Islam. Where we would differ from the Christian, is that we do not say Jesus is God, nor son of God, but apart from this, the religion is one.



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