Ramadan’s Struggles and Blessings
Ramadan, the month Muslims go without food and drink during daylight hours, is coming to a close Monday evening. I don’t know whether this will be a relief or a burden to practicing Muslims. As a non-Muslim who has spent long, warm, July days happily drinking lemonade and munching on all the juicy fruit the summer season offers, I can’t imagine fasting is fun.
The event was part of Imam Azeez’s television series, Heart of the Matter — a series dedicated to exploring the beauty and gems of Islam that are too often ignored. Episodes in the series have explored the role of women in Islam, as well as the connection between Islam and the environment. The event I attended was a taping of the Ramadan episode titled “Struggling to Surrender,” an interfaith discussion of what it means to practice Ramadan.
I wasn’t sure what to expect as I sat down in my seat and the show began. Not only am I not a Muslim, but I really don’t know much about Ramadan and I wasn’t sure if I would relate to the struggle of those around me. My stomach was already grumbling and it hadn’t even been four hours since my last meal. As interested as I was to hear the speakers, I couldn’t help but anticipate eating the dates that were waiting for us once the sun went down, and the delicious meal that was being set up outside.
But as Imam Azeez and his guests, Pastor Rick Cole of the Capital Christian Center and Dr. Jonathan A. Brown of Georgetown University, began speaking, the benefits of practicing Ramadan began to make sense. Imam Azeez explained that through the struggle of fasting you can achieve a sense of surrender to God and to creation — an ability to relinquish control over the “rat race” to satisfy your physical needs. He noted that Islam shares four out of its five main tenants with Christianity, a sentiment that was echoed by Pastor Cole as he compared the practice of Ramadan to running a marathon — a discipline.
It was Dr. Brown’s discussion of the freedom associated with Ramadan that made the most sense to me though. He talked about his strong addiction to coffee and that, even during Ramadan, he noticed that he always had to drink a couple cups once the sun went down. It made him realize the hold that certain physical needs had over his life. By giving up coffee he wasn’t only surrendering to God, he was gaining freedom from earthly needs and desires.
I thought about the daily, earthly wants I mistake for needs — the overconsumption of both food and products that I’m guilty of. Many other religions practice fasting as a way to draw attention to these attachments. Christians practice Lent and Jews fast on Yom Kippur to purify their souls. What kind of awareness would abstaining from food and drink during the day for a whole month bring to my life? Would I develop a deeper respect for the gifts that I’m given? The gifts of creation?
“I think in Ramadan we are encouraged to reflect and we experience the feelings of gratitude and appreciation,” Heart of the Matter team volunteer Hiat Saleh told me after the event. “We reflect on things we have and things around us. This is called tafakkur. This reflection is an act of worship. We increase our acts of worship and by doing so we strengthen our relationship with Allah. By strengthening the relationship with Allah we strengthen our relationship with his creation which includes our brothers and sisters in humanity and nature.”
I’m not sure if I’ll ever practice Ramadan myself. But I can say that attending the event, learning from the speakers, and talking to the Muslims who were fasting was incredibly inspiring. Their struggle caused me to reflect on all the benefits of my life — the blessings I too often take for granted. Although I haven’t fasted for a month, at least I can be thankful for all that creation provides.
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