Ramadan: Beyond Abstaining from Food and Drink
By Tamim Saidi, Engage Minnesota.
I vividly recall the first couple of years that I fasted as a young teenager. All I could think about was food. Even when I took a daytime nap, I dreamt of food. Ramadan follows a lunar calendar, and when it falls in long summer days like this year, abstaining from food and water becomes more challenging, but Ramadan is not merely about food and water. For practicing Muslims, it is about righteousness and God-consciousness. It is about making one a better person and a better Muslim.
Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, taught the Muslims that “God is in no need of someone abstaining from food and drink if they do not abstain from evil deeds and evil words.” In a different narration he said that there are some who get nothing out of their fast except for hunger and thirst – implying that if they do not abide by good moral character, there is no value in their fast. Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, taught us to not only abstain from food and drink during the day in this beautiful month, but to also abstain from saying, listening to, looking at, and doing all things inappropriate.
Thus, for practicing Muslims, the fast of Ramadan is not merely a fast of the stomach, but a holistic fast of the tongue, eyes, ears, limbs, heart and mind. The fasting person is to control not only his/her actions and deeds, but also his/her thoughts and desires. Therefore, Ramadan is the Month of Self-Discipline.
The Last Prophet, peace be upon him, told Muslims to avoid arguments and disputes in Ramadan even when confronting verbal abuse, swearing, or physical provocation. In such situations, he commanded us to simply say: “I am fasting,” and to not reciprocate the argument or verbal abuse. This makes Ramadan a Boot Camp Month for practicing Muslims. A month to train me and another 1.5 billion Muslims around the world to stay away from back-biting, arguments, lies, cheating, dishonesty, miserliness, envy, covetousness and greed. This is also the month that urges Muslims to be extra generous in giving for the sake of God. Muslims around the world give billions of dollars in charity to the poor and the needy, to the beggars, the orphans and the widows in need. Thus, Ramadan is the Month of Generosity.
For Muslims, this is also the Month of Qur’an, the last revelation from the Almighty God. Muslims focus on their spiritual relationship with the Creator of the Universe. They read His (Muslims believe God is beyond gender and not a male god) last revelation and reflect over its meanings and objectives. I have found myself reading more from the Qur’an during Ramadan than any other month. In spite of reading the entire Qur’an on a regular basis and numerous times over the years, every Ramadan I come across verses that seem like I have never read before.
Moreover, Ramadan is Community Month. I see more of my fellow Muslims in this month than in any other month. Most masjids (mosques) offer free food for people every night. It helps the community members catch up with each other and strengthen their bonds. I also meet hundreds of my fellow MN Muslims in functions and fundraising dinners. Most Minnesota Muslim organizations hold fund raising dinners and raise money to support schools, mosques, scholarships, education efforts, relief efforts and so on.
This is also Family Month. I get to have more meals with my family in Ramadan than in any other month in the year. We wake up together early in the morning, this year around 4:30 a.m, for suhoor (pre-dawn meal), and I make every effort to be with my family and friends for the “breakfast” meal (the ending of the fast at sunset), making sure we break our fast together like we started it together. This is very special for us.
This is the month that helps me realize that: Yes, I can live without coffee, and: No, that extra afternoon snack is not necessary. This is the month that helps us have more self-control and self-discipline, which leads to more self-esteem. This is the month that helps me better understand our reliance upon God. So this is the Month of Reflection.
Fasting in Ramadan helps me reconnect with the poor and the destitute. Without food and water for almost 16 hours a day, I can feel a small fraction of the pain of starving people around world and around the state. I realize that even though I look forward to a meal at sunset, there are millions of people, including young children, who sleep with empty stomachs. So if I can spare a few dollars and be generous enough to feed a few hungry people, I can look forward to the Infinitely Generous God sparing me difficulties in this life and in the Hereafter. Ramadan helps us be more sympathetic to those in need. This makes Ramadan the Month of the Poor.
Ramadan is also the Month of Spiritual Re-awakening. I have found that in Ramadan, doing good deeds is easier and comes more naturally. I have seen countless Muslims who are generally not practicing become practicing Muslims during this month. Muslims who smoke give up smoking, and those with other bad habits can drop those habits easier in Ramadan.
Ramadan is considered the Month of Mercy, Forgiveness and Salvation. So to earn the Mercy of God, God urges us to be merciful to one another. To earn His forgiveness, God urges us to forgive one another; and to receive Salvation we need to believe in God and to be good to one another, particularly to those in need.
As the main objective of fasting in Ramadan is to achieve piety and righteousness, the saying of our beloved prophet, Jesus, peace be upon him, in the Bible, “Blessed are those who hunger & thirst for righteousness” has an all new meaning for Muslims.
As Ramadan is considered a month in which prayers are accepted by God, I pray that God grants us all His Guidance, Mercy, Forgiveness, Blessing; and the best of this life and the Hereafter.