A Blessed Ramadan
Fasting in the month of Ramadan is a unique pillar in the Islamic faith. It is one that the majority of 1.6 billion Muslims around the world practice despite their varying levels of religiosity. Especially for those living in a Muslim majority country, it is hard to avoid fasting and the magical atmosphere of Ramadan. I experienced Ramadan in Dubai for 2 short years, but I would say it must be unique in every country. I would love to experience Ramadan in a more cultural and Islamic environment, but that doesn't mean that I haven't enjoyed Ramadan most of my life right here in good ol' northern Virginia.
We have a sizable and very diverse Muslim community in the Washington D.C. metro area, with plenty of mosques, community centers, MSA's, and Islamic schools. Because my family has always maintained close ties to our community here, I've never felt that I've been deprived of a sense of "Islamic-ness" during Ramadan and other Islamic holidays. I grew up going to the iftars (fast-breaking dinners) at the local mosque some evenings where it felt like we were all one big family enjoying dinner together. As we grew up, however, we stopped attending these community iftars and frequented the mosque for prayers less and less. Still, our memories as elementary school kids gathered in different parts of the Islamic center waiting impatiently for the prayer call, having iftar together, then rushing to buy candy to indulge our sweet cravings are truly unforgettable.
I remember one Ramadan when I was about 10 or 11 years old, I volunteered to help baby-sit some kids in the mosque while their mothers attended a lecture. We had a bag of lollipops and I passed them out to the kids while they played. I was proud to be fasting as I had started doing so at an early age. I got distracted with the kids, and found myself eating lollipop after lollipop. They were the small ones of which you could easily have 10 and still would want more. After going through about seven of them, my mom came to check on me and found me eating one. She said, "aren't you fasting?" And of course I was shocked, "oh my god! I totally forgot I was fasting! oh my god, how could I forget!" My mom just laughed at me and told me it was OK since I didn't do it on purpose, and that this was probably "a gift from God" since I was fasting so well for the past few years. I just can't seem to understand how I could go through so many lollipops without remembering that I was fasting! It's one of those incidents you never forget.
While in many Muslim countries most people will stop eating in public and restaurants will shut down during the day, that is not the case over here. Everywhere you go there is food and temptation. I remember in college when I used to walk through the main student union and have to face the aroma of french fries, burgers, pizza, and the works while going to meet my friends or study. In class I would cringe upon seeing a Starbucks cup and would just imagine the sweet taste of a tall chai or white mocha in the early morning. Still, nothing really ever came so close as to tempt me to break my fast, except getting sick. It's a disgraceful feeling that you have if you do break your fast for a stupid reason. This is what I feel when I'm sitting in front of the dinner table covered with all kinds of food and waiting for the clock to turn so I can break my fast. Once I drink that sip of water or juice, every feeling of hunger and weakness disappears. And you wonder to yourself how strong your body can be, but how weak your will can be as well, without faith. Because what else would make you not raise your hand to eat a bite or drink a sip during the day even if nobody can see you and nobody will know but you?
Despite all the talk of food, Ramadan is so much more than just abstaining from food and drink. It truly is a test of patience and strength. It's a time when Muslims feel that everything they do should be a form of worship. They like to pray on time, read more Quran, supplicate to the Lord, help the needy, and stay away from negative thoughts and bad language. It is a time when we should come closer to God and remember those who are less fortunate. Remember that we are nothing without the blessings of our Lord and that we are created to appreciate them and not abuse or misuse those blessings.
Just like other religious holidays that have been hijacked by businesses, this is the case in most Muslim countries where many people want to make a buck off of their Muslim brethren during this holy month. It's sad to see that Ramadan is being taken advantage of, and I'm glad that being in America keeps me away from that. I'm glad we don't have "Ramadan tents" over here to entertain us all night with coffee, sheesha, and belly dancers. How this concept could even be related to Ramadan still manages to shock me every time I see it on Arabic satellite channels. Instead of people praying for peace in Iraq, Palestine, and Darfur, they are smoking and drinking the night away so they can sleep the day away as well.
This Ramadan, I will pray for our communities across the world that are suffering from war, poverty, disease, occupation, oppression, and ignorance. I will pray that our youth are guided away from those who seek to take advantage of them for personal gains that cannot be justified by Islam. I will pray that our global community is not weakened by any attempts to sow disunity among Sunni and Shi'a, and that people of all faiths will continue to respect one another despite their differences. Ameen.
~Wishing you a blessed and peaceful Ramadan~
[technorati tags: Islam, Ramadan]