Conquering the beasts of time and desire
By Rawan Hamade
Many non-Muslims are interested in knowing why we fast during Ramadan and how it helps us try to improve ourselves. Unfortunately, many receive shallow answers that may not reach the underlying point. Some non-Muslims are hurriedly told that we fast merely to sympathize with the poor, which is absolutely true, but that does not define the limit of this month’s beauty. Ramadan is a blessed time for Muslims in which they should carry out one of the most important functions of a human: learning.
Learning about themselves is the most important goal for Muslims during this month, because only then can we maximize the benefits from fasting. Losing physical weight is not our concern in this month; rather what is much more important is losing the emotional strain that we put upon ourselves. Your desires can become heavy rocks that may destroy your life.
For example, imagine that you are your neighborhood’s news station. You know exactly what kind of TV your next-door neighbor bought the other day. You know how that guy across the street bribed his boss in order to keep his job and you know why that girl five houses down from you ran away from her parents. Now imagine that you knock on every door and, while you sip that bitter tea that your neighbor offered you (which you, of course, complained about to your sister and her husband), you tell her all the gossip you know. Unfortunately, the reality of what would take place next is not pleasant.
Because of this gossip, you will probably never be invited to a neighbor’s house again, let alone be told any secrets whatsoever. Maybe this is not complete destruction of your life, but it is definitely a source of depression. That is what Ramadan teaches us to do: abstain from desires that harm us or the people around us. Now your question may be: Why do you need fasting to help you realize that gossip isn’t all the fun that you hear it is? The answer is human nature. We can easily give in to our desires while knowing that where they lead us is not that garden that we may imagine straight ahead, but a dingy alley right around the corner. When we fast, we remember that if we utter a lie, or even if we ignore that old lady swaying back and forth on the bus, looking for a seat to rest her aching body on as we sit comfortably, we will not only feel guilty, but we would be hungry for nothing. Our fast would have become completely void and devoid of benefit. Finally, the goal of Ramadan is to know that there are people out there who can’t satisfy their desires as easily as we can. Some of those wants are actually basic needs that we need to learn to be grateful for, while other desires are in fact burdens that we have chosen to place upon our backs.
However, to reach the goals of fasting, Muslims go through some difficulties in Ramadan. For the average American, multi-tasking becomes the norm, but the real challenge is multi-tasking in due time. Muslim Americans may have this same challenge daily, but in Ramadan, it is taken up a notch or two. Glancing at the clock becomes the typical thing to do during the long days of this month for me and many other Muslim students, but that isn’t only because of our grumbling stomachs. I have realized, this year more than any other, that Ramadan doesn’t only teach you to have enough willpower to turn your head away from the crème brulé chocolates that you have stowed away for dinner. Rather, it also teaches another very valuable lesson: to take the clock hanging on your wall and save it in your head under a file called “time management.” In Ramadan, the many different obligations may seem overwhelming, but in fact it only makes you more aware of all the free time that is spent not getting anything done.
Waste is not permitted in Islam, and time-wasting is no exception. A non-Muslim may wonder how we can endure long days with no food or drink, but what you should really think about, dear folks, is how a Muslim makes it through Ramadan with all their hair intact. However, if we manage ourselves and our time efficiently, we not only let go of stress-related procrastination, but we can actually benefit from this blessed time. I have already learned many of Ramadan’s purposes but, unsurprisingly, I get inspired to change my life in a new way every single year.
Acquiring will power is the underlying goal of this month, whether it is willpower to learn what habits are bad for us and get rid of them, or determination to change our relationship to time. In fact, Muslims and non-Muslims alike can benefit because we should all learn not to let the clock beat us and steal our holiest times. “Beauty” may have had a beast waiting to turn into a prince and a rose that was obviously fragrant, but time is a beast that doesn’t wait, and this life’s virtues are not always evident, so grab every opportunity you have to benefit yourself and others. The next time someone calls over telling you to hurry, tell them to calm down and that you’re on top of things, and then make a run for the bus stop.
Rawan Hamade is a student at the University of Minnesota.