Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, has just started. It offers to any true seeker a self-reflective course that has the power to bring a revolution of the heart and help restore justice, peace and harmony in the world.
Ramadan is the embodiment of reflection, revelation, revolution, and restoration. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) began his journey into prophethood through reflection within. He was searching for a broader meaning in life that would restore justice and peace in society. He was looking for an answer that would transcend the need for material survival and transform humanity into a spiritually wholesome state. He reflected and meditated, spending many years in the sanctuary of a remote cave, surrounded by steep, barren, mountains situated in the outskirts of Mecca. Finally he received the answers in the form of divine revelations. It was in the ninth month of the Arabic calendar, known as Ramadan.
The very first word of the revelation was “Iqra” or “read” and each chapter of the entire revelations known as the Quran began by invoking 'the most merciful' and 'the most compassionate' attributes of God. Ramadan opened the door to the illuminated message that Prophet Muhammad would continue to receive for the next twenty-three years of his life. The ignorant and barbaric Arab society, where it was custom among some tribes to bury female children alive, was transformed. The revelations brought forth an extraordinary revolution of the heart in which blossomed the fragrant flowers of mercy and compassion - the essential building blocks for a just and civilized society. The very first message, “Iqra,” inspired an ignorant nation to glean knowledge from all aspects of life, and then inspired them to share it with others, irrespective of creed, colour, or gender for the common good of humanity. The seed of this remarkable transformation of a people was planted in the month of Ramadan fourteen hundred years ago.
The Ramadan of the year 2003, the first day of which is marked as always by the birth of a new moon, offers the same guidelines and symbolizes the same ideas as it did in the seventh century.
Muslims all over the world celebrate Ramadan, one of the five pillars of Islam, by refraining from food, water, and conjugal relationship from dawn to dusk (sick, elderly, pregnant women, and travellers are not required to fast). Generally Muslims break their fasts with dates, following the tradition of Prophet Muhammad, then dinner. People cook dinner according to their own cultural tradition. For example my Egyptian Arab husband Amr prefers chicken soup, bread, and bamia (okra cooked with lamb, tomato, and garlic), which are non-spicy Mediterranean-style dishes, while I, a South Asian Bengali, prefer spicy dishes, such as fried lentil fritters (lentil puree mixed with chilli-pepper, minced cilantro, onion) or red-hot curry. Over the years we have learned to compromise on our cultural expectations in order to make our Ramadan dinner joyful. And guess what? My husband begun to enjoy spicy dishes, and I love the soup! Ramadan is also a time for family union and extended celebration with friends and neighbours lasting for a month. Extra prayer, charity, recitation, and the celebration of the completion of the holy Quran are highlights of this month. Restraining ones anger, refraining from gossip and back-biting, etc. are required self-developmental features manifested through the physical fasting.
During Ramadan, Muslims in the United States encounter the additional challenge of keeping their fast and performing extra rituals in a non-observing environment where the majority does not fast. Yet my experience is that this extra challenge makes fasting more meaningful. It is this challenge that helps rejuvenate my weary spirit and expand my vision to embrace humanity as my own. This month also offers Muslims everywhere the opportunity to explain the meaning of Ramadan to non-Muslim friends, neighbours, and colleagues. Many mosques in the U.S.A, for example, extend an open invitation to non-Muslims to join their Muslim neighbours in breaking fasts in the mosque, thereby exposing them to the warmth of Muslim hospitality and to Islam’s rich cultural diversity.
Ramadan offers to any true seeker a self-reflective course, illuminated by eternal revelations, that has the power to bring a revolution of the heart and help restore justice, peace, and harmony in the world.
NOTE: Individuals of many cultures, nationalities, religions, and beliefs are actively involved with Initiatives of Change. These commentaries represent the views of the writer and not necessarily those of Initiatives of Change as a whole.