Try This! Ramadan, Fasting and Self-improvement
First Published August 24, 2008
This year, the Muslim month of Ramadan in the year 1436, begin on Thursday June 18th, 2015. The Quran was first revealed to the Prophet Mohammed during this, the ninth month of the Muslim Lunar calendar, making it one of the holiest months for Muslims. This is the month for not only physical, but even more importantly, spiritual cleansing for Muslims.
The Muslim calendar is about 10 days shorter than the Common Era (Gregorian) calendar, thus, Ramadan begins about ten days earlier each C.E. Year, cycling through every season, over a period of about thirty-three years…including Summer! For those living in mild climates like the North-West United States, summer fasting is not a problem. However, in the heat of the Middle-East, Africa or Asia, fasting is a major test of endurance as well!
Observed with great ceremony, Muslims may not eat or drink from dawn to dusk each day, but there are exemptions. Under-age children, the infirm, the elderly and the ill, are exempt from the requirements of fasting while those who are traveling and menstruating women, may make up afterwards. Some schools of thought allow for medications that do not provide nutrition, such as insulin, heart medications etc., while other schools believe nothing may be ingested during the fasting period.
For Muslims, fasting does not simply mean going hungry and thirsty, hunger helps to develop an empathy with those who may be hungry because they have no choice. Going hungry does not give Muslims permission to binge in order to make up for the ordeals of the day either, Islam insists that everything be done in moderation so while one may eat, one must leave some room in the stomach.
It is important to articulate the intention (“Niyah”) of fasting during the night before fasting, this promise may not be broken unless one is injured or one’s health gives out. It could be said that for Muslims, this is the hardest month to endure. During this month especially, Muslims cannot bear grudges, nor harbor ill-will or give in to rage, greed, lust, envy or our many other negative predispositions. God’s intent is that such disciplines help Muslims become better people and better contributors to the community and to the world, from year to year.
To better understand how this helps improve the humanity of a person, try following a fasting exercise for one or more days… DO NOT FAST if your health is likely to be affected by fasting, if you are menstruating or pregnant. Yes, you may keep your faith and fast as well, if you are not a Muslim.
Make the intention of fasting, the evening before you fast. On the day of fasting, rise an hour before sunrise to eat a small meal; say a prayer or meditate for help with this act of fasting and bless those around you.
During the day, one may not even fib (“I am sorry s-he is not in, may I take a message?”).
If cut off on the road, take a deep breath, bless the person and let it go.
Do not be in such a rush that you overlook the importance or the dignity of your fellow humans.
If you have ill-will towards someone, try to resolve the issue and do not permit it to exist any more. If you feel anger coming on, say a prayer seeking help and let the anger dissolve, or walk away.
Resist the impulse to “check out” a man or a woman, do not look at them with any sexual interest; look away.
If you cannot say something good, do not say something bad; do not swear.
Do not dwell on the day’s end when you can break fast, keep your mind active and focused on the daily jobs at hand.
Think of people who have no choice but to be hungry; can you do something to contribute for their betterment?
At sunset, break fast with a small fruit (dates are traditional) or, bread and a glass of water. Stop for about ten minutes to pray and thank God for His blessings upon you and for helping you keep your fast. Say a prayer for your friends, relatives and your fellow humans.
You may now eat your meal but leave a little space for moderation.
Consider how such practices may help improve the person who does this every day, for a whole month.
Shawwal, the next Lunar month, starts three days of festivities called Eid-ul-Fitr. On the first day (approximately July 18th this year), Muslims congregate at large venues for prayers, wearing their best clothing. At the conclusion of Eid prayers, Muslims embrace and congratulate each other for the festive days saying “Eid Mubarak” (“May this festival be a blessing for you”).
I remember, in the Old Country, all younger friends and relatives traditionally visited the elders in their homes which were decorated with oil lamps or Christmas lights, offering Eid blessings. As children, we loved being given goodies to eat and the tradition of being given money on this day…we never got tired of that!
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