Many of you may know that each year Muslims fast for one month during the month of Ramadan (the 9th month of the Islamic Lunar Calendar). We are currently on the 4th day of the Month of Ramadan. There are a variety of standards set for the fast but the primary acts are to abstain from food, drink, and intimate pleasure from dawn to sunset each day.
The Struggle, and Spiritual Insight, of the Day
He wants you to complete the prescribed period and to glorify Him for having guided you, so that you may be thankful. | [Prophet], if My servants ask you about Me, I am near. I respond to those who call Me, so let them respond to Me, and believe in Me, so that they may be guided.
| Qur’an 2:185-186
Blossoming from this physical denial is a sort of individual, internal tenderness; struggling with the desire for food and drink weakens the body and opens your mind and soul up to the reality of your dependence on God. This, of course, is only possible after working through the bouts of hangry-ness and the other forms of irritability that often come along with self-denial, which can often take a number of days of burning through the fast; but once those hills are climbed, once you’ve determined to make it to sunset without a morsel of physical subsistence, you begin to feel a spiritual calm that wells up inside, an internal thanksgiving.
The month of Ramadan is to be a time of heightened spiritual awareness, a launching pad for self-reform for the rest of the year; so, alongside the physical abstinence, Muslims spend a great portion of the month of Ramadan in meditation, contemplation, and prayer. There are many prayers of praise and thanksgiving that are recited during this time
O my Lord, You call out to me,
but I turn away from you.
You show me love, but I am
alienated from You. You give
me affection, but I pay no attention to You, as if I have a
right to be insolent towards
You! Yet that does not keep
You from having mercy on
me, from treating me with
kindness, from being graciously disposed towards me
out of Your generosity and
munificence! So have mercy
on Your ignorant servant and
grant him liberally out of Your
favour and kindness, for You
are indeed all-generous and all-munificent.
| A portion from a supplication prayed each night of Ramadan
The Social Aspect
Remember the hunger and thirst of the Day of Resurrection during the hunger and thirst of its fasts, and give charity to the poor and the destitute. Honour your elders, be compassionate to your young, and be kind to your relatives. Restrain your tongues from things which should not be said. Restrain your looks from what is ugly for you to see, and avoid hearing what is ugly for you to hear. Treat orphans with kindness, so that others are kind to your children after you…
| A tradition narrated from the Prophet Muhammad
Internal, spiritual development is not separate from social responsibilities and neither is it merely symbolic; one reinforces the other. A thoroughly pious person cannot neglect the destitute, the downtrodden, the broken relationships between family and friends, orphans, refugees. The month of Ramadan is often the height of charitable giving, just like the holiday season is the height of charitable giving for Christians in the US. It sets the stage, ideally, for a sustained life of giving and service.
In addition to the charitable element, fasting should be accompanied by good manners, which stem from the internal struggle, which will, again, ideally set the stage for deeper social relationships.
The entirety of the month is communal: from eating a mean prior to the fast, to the recognition of the struggle of each person fasting, to breaking the fast together in the evening; naturally, it is a little more difficult to be patient and kind while hungry; but this is the point of the month: if you are able to remain kind during the fast, it should set the stage for you to be more gentle during the rest of the year when you are satiated; think of it as Cross-Fit for the soul.
Do not break your promises; do not irritate or provoke one another; do
not make insulting remarks; do not swear at one another; do not dispute;
do not torment one another; do not oppress one another; do not discredit
one another; do not make one another upset or aggrieved; and do not be
negligent of God’s remembrance and prayer…
…My father used to say that once the Apostle of God heard a woman
who was fasting swear at a maidservant. He ordered food to be brought
and told her to eat. She said, ‘I am fasting, O Apostle of God !’ He said,
‘What kind of fast is it when you swear at your servant? Fasting is not just
refraining from food and drink. Indeed God Almighty has made the fast a
restraint from all ugly conduct and evil speech which break and invalidate
the fast. How few are those who really keep their fast, and how many are
those who just remain hungry.’
| Ja’far al-Sadiq, a saint of the early Muslim community
Breaking the Fast
At the end of the day, or, rather, at sunset each day, Muslims pray their evening prayer and then break their fast with family, friends, and community. Many people hold mini Thanksgiving-esque feasts with a variety of foods spread across the table on the weekends. The poor are invited into mosques to partake in free, community-sponsored meals.
Each night is celebration of successfully conquering the most basic human desires for a few hours; it is a communal prayer followed by a communal quenching of thirst and satisfying of hunger. There is a recommended regimen of formal prayers that are also suggested into the night as well as a strong recommendation to read and reflect upon a portion of the Qur’an each night. The spiritual element doesn’t end with the introduction of carnal satiation.
Waking and Beginning the Fast
This process begins anew the following morning when Muslims wake before dawn to eat an early-morning meal with their family to journey through another day of the month of the Ramadan with these words upon their lips
…O God , I beseech You to
grant me from Your Light
at its utmost luminosity,
and all Your Light is luminous. O God, I beseech
You by all Your Light.
O God, I beseech You to
grant me from Your mercy
at its utmost inclusiveness,
and all Your mercy is inclusive. O God, I beseech
You by all Your mercy…
| A portion from the Prayer of the Morning Meal