While much is made of the physical aspects around fasting during Ramadan, the holy month represents a spiritual space for remembering and reinforcing relationships.
For many Muslims worldwide, May 17 marks the first day of Ramadan, the observance of abstaining from food, water and innate desires between sunrise and sunset. Muslims will faithfully observe this third fundamental pillar of Islam as ordained by God. Though much is made of the physical aspects around Ramadan, apart from the physical sacrifices and discipline the holy month brings with it, it also represents a spiritual space for remembering and reinforcing relationships.
We are invited to re-examine the relationship with ourselves. On the spiritual journey that each one of us undertakes, the most difficult lesson is to understand our destination. We all struggle with the destination, as well as the mode and speed of travel. However, for those of you who have read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, the understanding of this destination is very simple: “Go; travel the world, look for the truth and the secret of life — every road will lead you to this sense of initiation: the secret is hidden in the place from which you set out.”
Thus the “secret” and the “destination” are hidden in the very place where you are. For many of us on this spiritual journey it is about seeking the one, the creator, the meaning of life. The secret is that what you seek is found only by rediscovering the essence of your own nature. The essence of your own nature is the return to oneself.
This is the apparent paradox of spiritual experience whereby the constant effort that we make to purify, to control and liberate our hearts is, in the end, a reconciliation with the deepest level of our being. That spark that the creator breathed into our heart — fitra in Arabic — is the spark of humility, the awareness of fragility, the consciousness of limitation, the shoulder of responsibility.
Developing this state is the very essence of Ramadan, something that is often missed in the superficial celebrations of this most blessed month. At the heart of our consumer society, where materialism and individualism drive our daily lives, the blessed month of Ramadan reinforces our personal effort and commitment, invites us toward the deep horizons of introspection and meaning, reminds us of silence, restraint and remembrance, and inculcates the importance of detail, precision, rigor and discipline of practice.
We are invited to re-examine our relationship with the creator. Fasting is in essence a deeply individual act: No one knows you are fasting except you and the creator, and it is easy to pretend on the outside that you are fasting. Hence its very act is about developing that personal connection with the creator. Through acts of worship during the blessed month, we take up a dialogue with God, a dialogue of intimacy, of sincerity, of love. This re-examination allows us to realize that we marry the purpose of our existence with the purpose of our subsistence, while nurturing the inspiration from the Quran that “God will not change anything for the good if you change nothing.”
We are invited to re-examine our relationship with our community. Ramadan is a feast of faith of fraternal atmosphere that is shared with all brothers and sisters. Unfortunately, over the last years, the concept of a fraternity has been denigrated to a single notion within the mindset of the Muslim community, which has gradually entrenched itself in an ideological box. This ideological comfort zone is an intellectual arrogance leading to an isolationist mentality and a cultural ghetto, into which Muslim communities around the world, especially those that live under minority situations, voluntarily lock themselves.
This isolationist mentality invites an “us” versus “them” attitude, meaning that the Muslim community has always been worried about “us” rather than taking an all encompassing “we.” The sense of community is reinforced with the fact that we all start and finish our fast together, while also choosing to pray together.
We are invited to re-examine our relationship with our society. Ramadan teaches us that we share the burdens of others, especially those less fortunate than us, and we remember our responsibilities toward them. The giving of charity is encouraged during this period as it is felt that rewards are doubled. Identifying with others in different ways is important in our role of living in society as founded upon a universal humanitarian principle based on the following verse from the holy Quran: “If anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind.”
A world that makes sense is a world in which we connect with other people, often beyond our immediate communities and experience, and show them compassion and love. This is the ultimate aspect of building relationships as taught by Ramadan.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
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