08.03.12 Truth & Wisdom
BY Shefa Ali
If you have any Muslim friends or colleagues, you might already know that the Holiest month of the year for Muslims, known as Ramadan, is here. The month started on the evening of Thursday, July 19, upon the citing of the new moon.
I like to look upon Ramadan as if it were a sort of intense detox. It’s intense, alright – we are not talking your average fruit juice or sugar-free detox, we are talking absolute abstaining from all food and drink from sunrise to sunset for a whole 30 days. That also includes cigarettes, medicines and sexual relations with your spouse. If you have any kind of medical condition, you are excused from fasting, as well as ladies who are menstruating, but then we would make up for the days we missed fasting after the month is over.
A fast in the summer months can easily last from 12-14 hours – starting at about 4 am and ending at around 6pm in the evening. We use the fasting month as a time for reflection, devotion, generosity and sacrifice.
After what you have just read, the thought of a days fasting may seem unimaginable, but it’s not only your sense of taste that is taking a break during Ramadan. It gets slightly more demanding than that; your other senses are also put to the test! Your eyes have to be committed from wandering to that which is considered to interfere with your spiritual upliftment, your ears from listening to idle gossip and tongue from partaking in gossip that may harm others, as well as lying and speaking about others behind their back.
It’s a pretty amazing feeling to think you are among the 2.1 billion Muslims worldwide who are fasting and experiencing exactly the same feelings as you are, it’s the ultimate sense of community.
I think you might agree with me that all these aspects of Ramadan, combined, make a rather scrumptious recipe for divine cleanliness and leaves the door wide open to a path that can lead to a higher spiritual plane – not to mention the huge sense of awareness of others’ suffering. Your hunger pangs throughout the day will undoubtedly make you think back to that homeless person you saw the other day and the countless destitute and poor orphans all over the world who cant even get a proper meal a day.
Fasting in most faiths has been a method of cleansing the body and strengthening the spirit. With the health-conscious mindset reigning supreme these days, fasting is very popular. With the change of routine in Ramadan, Muslims have a chance to establish healthier lifestyle habits – particularly with regards to diet and smoking. Through family and community gatherings, Muslims strengthen the bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood, in their own communities and throughout the world.
Fasting in Ramadan allows the digestive system, the engine of the body, to rest from the normal demands of processing and breaking down food, freeing up system resources to cleanse and purify the body of accumulated toxins, allowing for more effective healing and tissue repair. It’s worth knowing that it has been scientifically documented that the single most effective practice for improving human health and longevity is the reduction of intake and consumption.
One of the primary benefits of fasting in Ramadan is spiritual purification, the essential goal of Islamic Spirituality. Although we tend to think of the mind, body and spirit as separate components, in reality they are all connected and inter-related, and improvement in any one naturally effects improvement in the others as well. Fasting in Ramadan purifies the mind, body and spirit, leading to greater clarity, sensitivity and health.
A typical day of Ramadan in Qatar goes something like this: the fast usually starts as early as 3:30 in the morning when you wake-up and have something substantial to eat to help you fast for the day. After performing the morning prayers at around 5am, it’s almost impractical to squeeze in any more sleep. However, some people do; others prefer to read some verses of the Qu’ran.
People read the Qu’ran many times over during this month – we get extra brownie points (as I like to refer to them) with God if we do. Working hours are lessened for us during Ramadan, as well. It’s extremely hot – temperatures can reach up to nearly 50 degrees and while you are fasting, this can prove quite challenging, so thank God we have only a five hour work day this month.
After work, some people would go home and nap until the breaking of the fast time, while many women will hit the kitchen to prepare all kinds of delicacies for their families to feast on. The minutes just before breaking the fast seem to go on forever. Everyone has his or her ear glued to the window just waiting to hear the call to prayer, which signifies the moment we can break the fast. The accurate time to break the fast is when the sun has faded so much that you cannot distinguish a black piece of thread from a white one.
As the muezzin (the one who goes to the top of the minaret to call to prayer) recites his calls, he is joined by many others from the hundreds of mosques over the capital city of Doha, and this chorus simply so enchanting that there are no words to describe its beauty, you simply have to experience it for yourself.
Since we have been refraining from food since early morning, it is so tempting to stuff our faces with the delicious rice and meat dishes, as well as all other kinds of treats placed in front of us. But as Muslims, we are encouraged to always remember to keep 1/3 of our stomachs for food, 1/3 for liquid and 1/3 for air. This was the habit of our prophet Mohammed (peace and blessings upon him).
The evenings of the Holy month are spent offering extra optional prayers, which are performed in the mosque and visiting family and friends.
Ramadan is really calming for the soul. I’d like to ask you, if I may, to join me for a day of fasting. Undoubtedly you will find it a trying experience at first, I’m sure. But as soon as you realize what the health and spiritual benefits are, I am almost sure you will find it as much as an awe-inspiring feeling as I do.