The Challenge to Spirituality in Ramadan
Through the long summer days, fasting and embracing spirituality in Ramadan is becoming more difficult.
It is now the half-way point in Ramadan, the holiest month in the Islamic calendar. The festival commemorates the moment that the Quran was first revealed to Prophet Muhammad. For either 29 or 30 days — Islam is based on a lunar calendar — Muslims around the world abstain from food, drinks, smoking and sexual intercourse from dawn till sunset.
Ramadan is a spiritual time for Muslims, and it symbolizes compassion, reflection and willpower. During the month, special attention is given to acts of worship in the form of prayer, inner peace and dhikr (remembrance of God). People who do not usually pray five times a day or attend a mosque put special emphasis on their religious practices in Ramadan. Around the world, mosques are busier, especially with the additional tarawih prayers that are held at night. In countries such as Morocco, places like the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca are full to the max and the overflow of worshippers extends to the street.
Throughout the day, Muslims dedicate more of their time to religion, and the Quran is often read in its entirety. Ramadan is known as a month of giving, being generous and sharing. More alms or sadaqa are given to charity in Ramadan than any other month, and people provide those who cannot afford enough with meals. For example, if one is prevented from fasting due to poor health, it is obligatory to feed a fasting person for every day of the month — namely those living in poverty. Among other food, this often includes a certain amount of flour or the cash equivalent.
All spirituality aside, it has become more difficult to fully indulge in the Ramadan atmosphere on a long summer’s day and, for some, the festival is slowly losing its crucial characteristics in big city life.
Life as usual or time to relax?
In Rabat, the Moroccan capital, the streets are empty during Ramadan. As a country known for its stray animals, even cats try to hide from the heat of the summer sun. Cafés and restaurants, except for some fast-food chains that target foreigners, remain closed. The rhythm of the normally pulsing city slows down to a snail’s pace. The same goes for most Muslim-majority countries around the world.
Although everything seems to change in Ramadan, there are many who follow their normal routines with work and studying. For them, it is increasingly difficult to immerse themselves in all the spiritual endeavors that Ramadan has to offer. Some may simply be too tired after a day’s work to attend a mosque for tarawih or read the Quran at home. This is especially the case if you have to wake up early.
For those working or studying full-time, it can be difficult to focus after a day of fasting for anywhere between 16 and 20 hours, depending on the country. Before fasting each day, Muslims have suhoor, a pre-dawn meal. In the summer months, this is at around 3am, and most people will either stay wake until that time or get up for the meal. For those who start working early, this can lead to sleep deprivation, which could impact the benefits of spirituality if they are unlikely to find the energy to do anything else. Over the last few years, Ramadan has also coincided with the exam periods of high schools and universities. Taking an exam after an entire day of fasting adds extra stress.
For people who live in the countryside, there are just as many temptations and distractions lingering that may hinder them from completely embracing the spirit of Ramadan. Some may get up late in the day in order to shorten the period of being awake and fasting and, therefore, feel less strain. As a result, they may not understand and empathize with the suffering of the poor, which is an objective of the fast.
In Muslim-majority countries, especially Arab ones, TV channels run programs specifically for the month, knowing that people spend extra time watching television. During the final hours before the breaking of the fast, some people are so drained from not eating or drinking that they simply watch these Ramadan soap operas.
Indeed, Ramadan can easily turn into a month of relaxation and laziness, which also reduces people’s productivity — both in the daily routine and spirituality. While the festival should be a time of religious consciousness and serve as an occasion to reflect on life, all the mass consumption — especially in the form of TV drama — seems to be killing the meaning of the month.
Compassion for the poor
Fasting in Ramadan should raise awareness and compassion for the poor, who may not have easy access to food and water. While Islam itself advises against overindulgence — Prophet Muhammad said Muslims should leave space of one-third for food, one-third for water and one-third for air — this is not the case for many today.
At iftar, when the fast is broken at sunset, a big meal is usually par for the course. It may be a bit difficult to understand how the poor really feel while sat anticipating the exact moment you can eat a big meal. Such practices might not leave room for any further thoughts about the meaning and purpose of fasting.
Ramadan remains a special time for Muslims, but even in countries like Morocco, it has become harder to follow the traditions and objectives. Fasting requires willpower and strength when it coincides with the hot summer months, exam periods and a full-time job. The space for reflection and spirituality slowly gets filled by distraction and consumption.
While it is indeed true that many Muslims focus on their religious duties, straight after the month is over mosques suddenly have fewer people in them. Though the spirit of Ramadan may still linger in the air, normal life returns quicker than the spirituality fades.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.