Our Annual Tune-Up: Ramadan
by Barry Danielian
NEW YORK New York—(Weekly Hubris)—7/22/11—As I’m writing this I have, along with 1.5 billion other human beings, reached my 15th day of annual fasting. I can feel my spiritual endorphins starting to kick into full gear. I’ve become much calmer: walking more slowly; driving more slowly (and my wife is happy about that one)
I notice myself much more willing now to talk with people (I’m usually fairly deep in my own head) and, although I’m usually a charitable soul, I am much more so now.
Surely, these experiences are not unique to me: they are a by-product of fasting during the holy month of Ramadan.
Fasting as a religious practice is not at all unique to Islam. Every religious tradition includes some form of fasting as part of its practice. The Quran asserts: “Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you so you shall become more God-conscious.” [Italics mine.]
The form of our particular, Islamic fast is as follows: Upon sighting the new crescent moon of Ramadan (the 9th lunar month), we abstain from food, drink and intimacy from sun-up till sun-down. The sick, elderly and pregnant, or anyone who would put her or his health in danger by fasting, are all exempt from the fast. It is recommended that they provide food for the poor in lieu of the fast. Women are exempt during menstruation but continue the fast when it’s over. A person traveling has the option not to fast and make up those days later.
These are the basic parameters, worldwide, of the Fast of Ramadan.
However, there is a deeper and more difficult aspect to the fast, based upon the following verse from scripture: “God has no need of your hunger and thirst if you persist in bad actions.” So, the more meaningful aspect of fasting is to examine one’s behaviors, and “fast” from certain of those actions as well.
This comprises a two-part process:
1) Examining one’s self critically and uncover bad qualities.
2) Abstaining from these behaviors and thoughts in the hope of breaking free of them. Thus, if one is given to backbiting, one should become more conscious of it and abstain from that habitual behavior. If one is given to gazing lustfully at beautiful women (guilty as charged), one should lower one’s gaze.
But, it could be any character flaw that one chooses to make more conscious. Of course, the goal, once that process begins, is to replace a bad quality with a good one.
Most of us find this all much easier to undertake when fasting. The “lower spiritual frequencies” that are usually so strong (the physical appetites) are starved, and the higher frequencies (the spiritual appetites) are fed.
Thus, while fasting, we are tuning in to our angelic frequencies, and disconnecting from our baser frequencies.
From a theological perspective, Islam does not advocate denying our “animal” nature, but only counsels us to constrain and discipline it. Again, fasting makes this easier to accomplish.
Ramadan moves back approximately eleven days through the Gregorian calendar each year.
My first fast occurred 20 years ago, in March. The sun came up a 6:15 a.m., and set at 4:05 p.m. This year, I’m up at 4 a.m., and have “breakfast” at around 8:15 p.m. Those of us in the northern hemisphere are moving into longer, hotter days of fasting, while those in the southern hemisphere are moving into shorter, cooler days. We see this phenomenon as a manifestation of Justice, which is one of God’s qualities or names: Al Adil, The Just.
Given an average lifespan, a person will fast approximately twice through the entire Gregorian calendar.
Lessons of the fast:
1) Unity of humanity: i.e.; no matter how rich or poor, we all feel hunger.
2) We usually consume much more than we need.
3) Empathy for those who hunger every day.
4) A deeper appreciation for food and drink.
5) We don’t need as much “stuff” as we think we do, or are programmed to believe we do.
Other recommended practices during Ramadan:
1) Tarawih prayer: additional congregational prayers at night.
2) Giving as much to charity as possible. This is not restricted to giving money.
3) Reading the entire Quran over the course of the month. The Quran is divided into 30 juz; we are encouraged to read one juz per night.
3) A general increase in invocations and prayers.
4) Many Masjids invite reciters during this month to lead Tarawih prayers. It is very beautiful and moving to hear the recitation of the Quran. I have witnessed many non-Muslims quite moved upon hearing these recitations.
5) We are encouraged to wake in the middle of the night and pray more. (I’m always amazed at how little sleep I need when I’m fasting! I would be a walking zombie on so little sleep the rest of the year but, during Ramadan, I’m actually more productive even while carrying out increased spiritual/religious practices.
At the end of the 29th or 30th day (a complete lunar cycle), we begin one of our two celebrations: Eid L Fitr, or “The Festival of Breaking the Fast.” We attend a congregational prayer early in the morning and the next three days are spent in celebration. It is recommended that we visit family and friends as well as bring food to the poor and needy and give generously to charity. While we do give gifts, so far the great international marketing machine has not commercialized Islamic holidays.
Ultimately, our goal is to move closer to God, endow ourselves with Prophetic qualities and rid ourselves of our bad qualities (or at least mitigate them). Too, we all try to preserve our spiritual gains throughout the rest of the year. In this sense, Ramadan provides an annual opportunity for transformation.
It was also a practice of Prophet Muhammad to fast every Monday and Thursday as well as the 13th,14th and 15th day of each lunar cycle throughout the year. I feel it important to mention that our reason for sighting the moon has nothing to do with moon worship, as some “so-called experts” have asserted. We sight the moon to
delineate our months, and sight the sun each day to determine our prayer times. This is a natural way to mark the passage of time . . . as well as, we hope, bring us more closely in tune with the natural world.
Finally, I would be remiss not to mention the ongoing tragedy in East Africa. There are many people there who, despite their dire situation, are keeping the fast. We sit down to nice meals at night, while they have nothing.
Please give if you can and, if you cannot, keep these starving brothers and sisters in your prayers. We believe that God made enough for all humans; if some go without it could be that others are consuming more that they need.
Something to think about, especially right now.