Fasting Ramadan: Time to Nourish the Soul

Fasting Ramadan: Time to Nourish the Soul

 Fasting during the ninth Islamic lunar month of Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam. The Islamic calendar year is 10 days shorter than the year of the solar calendar and thus Ramadan is expected to come 10 days shorter every Georgian year.
Muslims believe that humans have, by their nature, strong self-centered motivations. On another level, contribution to society is a pivotal measure of piety. The drive to give may be hampered by the love to gain. This paradigm results in spiritual and social dissatisfaction when life does not live up to our “wants”. This article explains what Muslims do during Ramadan to restores a healthy balance between these contrasting motives.
Fasting is an integral inscription to the divine scriptures. Fasting in some form or another has been prescribed in other sacred books such as the Bible. In the divine book of Islam, Allah (God) says:

“O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous - [Fasting for] a limited number of days. So whoever among you is ill or on a journey [during them] - then an equal number of days [are to be made up]. And upon those who are able [to fast, but with hardship] - a ransom [as substitute] of feeding a poor person [each day]. And whoever volunteers excess - it is better for him. But to fast is best for you, if you only knew. The month of Ramadhan [is that] in which was revealed the Qur'an, a guidance for the people and clear proofs of guidance and criterion. So whoever sights [the new moon of] the month, let him fast it; and whoever is ill or on a journey - then an equal number of other days. Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship and [wants] for you to complete the period and to glorify Allah for that [to] which He has guided you; and perhaps you will be grateful.”(Qur’an/Surah 2 Verse 183-185).

Adult Muslims physically and mentally fit are required to fast. They abstain from all food and drink, including water, and pleasures of the flesh from dawn until sunset. They must guard against what they hear, say or do. Prophet Muhammad stated that “Allah is not in need for the fast of that person who does not watch what to say.”  Idle tongues are gossip and not sincere in the eyes of Allah. These who adhere to these expectations receive the blessings of Ramadan as specified by the Prophet Muhammad who said “Whoever fast Ramadan with faith and in expectancy of reward, his previous sins are forgiven”. He also stated “Whoever draws nearer to Allah by performing any of the non-mandatory good deeds in this month shall receive the same reward as mandatory obligating deed at any other time. At Ramadan, this deed is far more powerful by the power of seventy from the ordinary times. It is the month of patience, and the reward of patience is Heaven. It is a month of charity and a month in which a believer’s sustenance is increased.” In this way, spiritual goals are given a physical form in subtle, but perfect, ways. Denying physical desires teaches many core values like: a) strength to say “no” to momentary pleasures and “yes” to what is right. Prophet Mohammad said “forsake what people have, they like you. Forsake (the false appeal of) life, Allah loves you” The slippery slopes of physical pleasures can overwhelm us and without self- control, we may rush to seek immediate and indiscriminate gratification to our detriment; b) learning to be less selfish. Experiencing the need is not the same as watching it in others and c) seeing with more enhanced vision the benefits of physical health, spiritual wellbeing and social ethics in community and family. There is a divine expectation that contribution to society must shift to the center of our interests - a measure of piety, and therefore Ramadan is an opportunity to nourish the soul to fulfill satisfaction.
Spiritual wellbeing is evident in many ways. As the first verse of the Qur’an was revealed during Ramadan, it is called the month of the Qur’an. There are also special daily congregational prayers in late evening, called “Taraweeh”. They are led by a person that has memorized the entire Qur’an and is known as “Haafiz”. Approximately one of the thirty Surahs (chapters) of the Qur’an is recited nightly in its original Arabic language during each of these prayers. By the end of the month the entire scripture has been recited. Muslims are expected to read the scripture on their own at other times during the month.
During the last ten days, Muslims witness the act of seclusion, often spending day and night at their mosques engaging in religious dialogues.  Many Muslim youth attend overnight camps each weekend at Islamic centers.  
There is a major emphasis on charity during this month. The hunger and thirst of fasting helps individuals develop empathy for those who are less fortunate. Every Muslim-fasting or non-fasting- who can afford must contribute at least a minimal amount to charity to purify the soul. There is also an expectation to contribute to, and distribute other forms of charity.
Ramadan is an opportune time for community togetherness. Every day at sunset, groups of Muslims and invited non-Muslims share a meal to break the fast. Traditionally they start with an odd number of dates followed by a glass of milk or water. It is preceded by a short supplication “O’Allah, accept our fast and other deeds. Amen”. Prophet Muhammad said “Whoever gives food to a fasting person to break his fast shall have his sins forgiven and he will be saved from the Fire of Hell, and he shall have the same reward as the fasting person, without the reward of the fasting person being diminished”. In many Islamic centers, a fast-breaking dinner is held every night. Students, singles and others who wish to come are encouraged to participate. The Islamic Centers also host larger community potluck dinner each Saturday of the month.
Throughout the month, Ramadan becomes like a dear friend who visits once a year bearing the most of precious gifts. The activities during it remove the rust; build up during the preceding year, from the soul and body. To Muslims, fasting is not about forsaking physical pleasures for no better reasons. It is a time welcomed to earn the qualities of piety.
The end of Ramadan is celebrated by the feast of breaking fast (Eid). Traditionally, it is a full day event. Prophet Muhammad said that God said “You have been ordered to fast, and you did. You have been ordered to get up at night and you did. You have been ordered to pay the charity dues and you did. It is time to receive your prizes. Come along to the Oft-forgiving God who rewards by forgiveness and giving.” 
On the Eid day, a large congregational prayer which includes a special sermon is held at a public place. People from all walks of life including children attend the event. Wearing their ethnic clothing for the occasion makes it a colorful display of harmonious multiculturalism all over the world.  It is an opportunity for families and friends to get together and exchange gifts and is a special time full of splendid noise and frantic activity for children. They wear their best clothes; attend parties held at the Islamic centers and at homes of friends. The community social events are extend throughout the day and some continue over the following several days. Every effort is made to ensure that no Muslim is left alone during these celebrations.
Eventually, Ramadan mission is completed. The drive to contribute to other goodness has been accepted as part of the self-centered “wants”. A time for Ramadan to depart. For now Muslims step up to the occasion “welcome Ramadan”.
Dr. Ahmed Shoker