Fasting in the lunar month of Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam and its main aim, according to the Qur’an (chapter 2, verse 183), is to create God-consciousness (taqwa in Arabic) among believers.
Taqwa guides and propels a Muslim towards living a virtuous life and developing some inner qualities, such as integrity and self-discipline; it also shapes believers’ life and transforms their character with a positive drive for action in society. The physically challenging and spiritually intense month-long fasting from dawn to dusk in the month of Ramadan is a divine gift to believers to become harbingers of good to people around.
Behind the disciplining of our natural thirst, hunger and base desires, fasting prepares us to contemplate the deeper meaning of life – our fleeting existence on earth, connection with God, relationships with fellow human beings and obligation to the wellbeing of the environment. A visible positive change in Muslim behaviour in the noble month of Ramadan – humility, patience, fortitude, spiritual journey, etc – impacts their personal lives as well as others in the neighbourhood and community.
Ramadan teaches Muslims the ethos of share and care, extra generosity, respect and giving preference to fellow human beings; these values are greatly needed now more than ever in our unequal society and fractured world. The month of Ramadan is indeed a blessing for Muslims, for them to be a blessing to the rest of humanity; it embodies the ‘service ethos’ of the religion of Islam.
But, is it our reality now?
Charity giving in Muslim communities multiplies during Ramadan and Muslims do this for the pleasure of God alone. The Islamic concept of giving to the poor and needy is a duty, not a favour. ‘And in their wealth there is a share of the poor and the dispossessed as their right’, says the Qur’an (chapter 51, verse 19). In Britain, Muslims are known as the ‘top charity givers’.
Whether practicing or cultural, Muslims have a special affinity for fasting during Ramadan; many thoroughly transform their character, attitudes, behaviour and lifestyles for a whole month.
Muslims believe that the Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him) in Ramadan; the distinctive first message, ‘Read’, makes this a month of seeking knowledge and engaging in contemplation; many will be reciting and hearing the Qur’an; some will memorise parts from it.
How lovely the world would be if only the text in the Qur’an were understood with context and followed properly!
Ramadan has a distinctive message for minority Muslims in the West. It demands from them positive and ethical action, a unilateral task to create a better society. Being true to Islam means being a good citizen and human being. In fact, the essence of Muslim morality is to be good to others, without being judgemental.
While other Islamic rituals are noticeable to people, fasting is not; it is a ritual that represents a unique self-surrender to God. Whoever does not give up forged speech and evil actions, Allah is not in need of his leaving his food and drink – according to a Prophetic tradition.
Fasting is about the ‘burning’ of one’s desire and ego in order to conquer our base instincts, such as self-gratification, arrogance and a wasteful extravaganza.
In an unprecedented commercialisation and sexualisation in our world it is easier to fatten our egos, nurture our greed and increase our impatience. The easy accessibility of instant messaging, Facebook, Twitter, etc, can make us ‘slaves’ to our ever-new technological gadgets. We have very little free time to think and relax; still less time to spend with our near and dear ones – even the elderly and children in our own family. We live fast-paced lives; we want to be in life’s fastest lane and beat others, yet we do not think about the possibility of a crash.
We are always in a hurry!
Much of our modern way of life is eating away our souls; we are gradually turning into human robots. We fear discussing tough issues such as morality and ethics – lest we are seen as ‘dogmatic’ or ‘extremist’ by others. We have become too rights-based, but expect a higher level of responsibility from others – our elected representatives, government, the police and public servants.
But a society needs people who strongly feel a sense of duty to all people. Here comes the need for moral education and citizenship training, not just for political and social unity but to address human cravings for peace.
Every year Ramadan brings a unique opportunity to ‘train’ Muslims to soul-search, introspect, recharge our energy and revitalise our inner selves. Fasting is the antidote to selfishness and extreme materialism in our lives. It helps us to stand firm on positive morality and strengthen our conscience. Fasting is a ‘shield against evil’ to survive and succeed; it reminds a believer that real success is not so much about this world but the hereafter.
When it comes to public expression of religious rituals Muslims are probably on top of others in faith communities. But sadly, some amongst us have big contradictions in our practical day-to-day life; we must stop being just a ‘Ramadan Muslim’.
Ramadan brings a unique festivity in Muslim life; can this month bring a heightened spirituality with a deeper and sustainable positive change in our lives?