Ramadan: A time of Reflection, Perseverance, and Change
Fasting during certain days or times of the year is true for all religious traditions and creeds,and Islam seizes that connection with other religions. In the holy Quran, we are told: “O you who believe! Observing AsSaum (the fasting) is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may become Al-Muttagūn (the pious)” (Quran 2:183). Among other prophets and pious worshippers of God, Zachariah and Mary (Peace be upon them) were mentioned in the holy Quran performing some form of fasting that requires not eating and not speaking simultaneously for a set period of time. Moses and Jesus (Peace be upon them) engaged in the act of fasting as well. The main goal of fasting has long been to obey God in a certain way.
Fasting, or Saum in Arabic, is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and is one of the main pillars of Islam where people fast from dawn time to sunset during which people do not eat, smoke, or drink, and abstain from sexual activities, and any negative verbal behavior like gossiping, backbiting, quarreling, and vulgarity. In it, Quran was first revealed in one of the most important nights of the year- The Night of Decree (Lailat Al-Qadr). Ramadan requires adult Muslims to fast for continuous 29 or 30 days in a lunar year, which allows Muslims to reflect deeply on their personal lives, learn patience and perseverance, cultivate fellow feeling, adapt changes, and end with a celebration.
Time of Reflection:
Mohammad (praise and blessings of God be upon him) mentioned in the famous Hadith (his sayings) that “When the month of Ramadan starts, the gates of the heaven are opened and the gates of Hell are closed and the devils are chained” (Hadith from Bukhari). This hadith in particular is a heartfelt feeling by Muslims who observe that God, the most merciful, and generous, wants us to concentrate on the act of fasting away from worrying about the devil and its temptation. It is some form of cognitive relaxation that enables the human mind to focus on what is really important and steer away from excessive worrying over leisurely activities that could be replaced by more meaningful ones, like focusing on academics for students.
The month of Ramadan, given the fact that a day of fasting around summer time would last at least around 17 hours a day in Pocatello, requires special limitations on human activity. That is, one will automatically be leaning to talking less, changes in sleeping and eating habits due to increased worship activity, doing less unwanted multitasking, and refraining from negative behaviors, all of which would lead individuals to go about doing things differently, instilling a sense of patience and perseverance to perform daily activities under new conditions leading to a stronger character. Those fasting could achieve self-control and self-discipline towards growing desires.
In Islam in Focus, H. Abdalati says, “A fasting person empties his stomach of all the material things: to fill his soul with peace and blessings, to fill his heart with love and sympathy, to fill his spirit with piety and Faith, to fill his mind with wisdom and resolution.” The Hadith sayings and the Quran both buttress this view of an increased interior mental awareness. It is a mental state of deep pondering about the self. Feeding fasting individuals in the sunset time in an unrestricted manner for the sake of attaining piety and self-righteousness is just one of the many acts that teach those fasting to be nice to those around them even without a material benefit behind this altruistic act.
Time of Change:
One of the results of the fasting month is to realize that our bodies could readjust to consume less foods and drinks, and spend less time on negative social behaviors. Ramadan forces individuals to change their whole life styles to meet a style that is conservative of food consumption, and more self-aware of wrongdoing, with a strengthened link with God, and a better valuation of others’ suffering. Ramadan is not just to ascribe with the destitute, but it is a school that resets behaviors. Once behaviors change, a fruitful member of society is born and reborn every year, a member who assists in decimating poverty, acts honestly, is self-disciplined, and has more passion towards others.
End of Ramadan:
Right before Ramadan ends, every adult would give an obligatory donation (Zakat Alfitr) to the poor and needy in the community they live in. The first day in the next month of the Islamic calendar (i.e., Shawal) starts with a one day celebration of the end of fasting (i.e., Eid Alfitr) and in it Muslims visit family and friends with a spirit of forgiveness and love even to those who might have caused them harm.
Yousef Deikna is a member of the Islamic Society of Southeast Idaho. He is a representative from the Islamic Society to the Portneuf Valley Interfaith Fellowship.