So Very Glad I Did It


In the Name of the Kind and Beautiful Precious Beloved LORD

It has only been a few days, but it almost seems that Ramadan is a distant memory. Now, I am eating and drinking during the day, and although it still feels a little weird, it is a most welcome change. Indeed, I am trying to keep up  the good habits I learned during Ramadan, and I am trying to keep it’s spirit alive for as long as possible. Yet, when I reflect over the past month of fasting during the very hot days of August, I can only smile with happiness.

I am so very glad I did it.

It feels so great to have been able to fast during the month of Ramadan this year. There is a tremendous sense of accomplishment, perhaps because of the fact that the days were long and frequently hot. Yet, on a more important level, I am so glad that I was able to suck it up and fast despite my tremendous fear as the month started. I am so glad that I overcame my weakness and stuck it out for God.

More than any other ritual practice of Islam, fasting is the one ritual that God says is for Him. According to the Sacred Tradition, God said: “Fasting is for Me, and I give the reward for it.” That is because, more than any other ritual practice, you can’t fake fasting. When you are alone – and it is hot, and you are very, very thirsty – you simply cannot keep fasting if you are doing it for show.

But, if you are doing it for God, as an act of love in return for His tremendous love for you, then despite all the thirst and hunger in the world (assuming you don’t get sick), you simply will not break down and eat or drink. You will suck it up and stick it out. At least, I did so, even on days when I could not bear the hunger or thirst. And I am so happy that I did, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to do so.

I hope and pray that the Lord will accept my fasts this year and every subsequent year until the day I die. Although I can’t predict the future, I do pledge that I will do my best to fast and fast faithfully each and every year, because I love God so very, very much.

And that is because He loved me first.

Keeping Ramadan Alive the Rest of the Year


In the Name of the Kind and Beautiful Precious Beloved LORD

This was published on the website OnIslam.net.

Almost invariably it happens a few days after the end of Ramadan: the letdown.

Fasting is finished; the nightly prayers are over; the group gatherings to break the fast have vanished. We can eat, drink, and be merry again when the sun is shining. And that special feeling you have in your heart–the one that keeps you going despite your hunger and thirst–gradually fades away.

The spiritual high evaporates, and all you are left with are the bad habits you tried to shed during Ramadan, but mysteriously rear their ugly heads once it is over.

Ramadan is supposed to increase your faith and God-consciousness:

“Believers! Fasting has been prescribed for you–as it was prescribed for those before you–so that you may be conscious of God.” (Al-Baqarah, 2:183).

The point is not to be an angel for Ramadan and a demon at other times. The lessons learned and spiritual benefits gained during that month are intended to carry over for the rest of the year until next Ramadan.

Yet frequently they do not. Is there anything we can do about it? Absolutely and here are five ways we can try to keep the spirit of Ramadan alive and well throughout the rest of the year.

Good Habits Kept Up

More than just denying oneself food and drink, the fast of Ramadan is a complete body-and-soul fast. Although this should be the behavior of the believer at all times, when one is fasting, he or she should take special care not to harm anyone, curse anyone, or do anything wrong. In fact, Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said:

“Whoever does not give up forged speech and evil actions [while fasting], God is not in need of his leaving his food and drink.”

Well, once Ramadan is over, these good behaviors should continue.

For instance, if you took the opportunity of the month of Ramadan to try to curb talking about other people, why not continue to refrain from doing so after Ramadan is over? We should continue to go to the mosque for congregational prayers. It is so amazing to see the mosque–which was packed just a few days earlier–stand almost completely empty during Isha’, or night prayers, after Ramadan. If we can go to the mosque each day during Ramadan, we can get there every day during the rest of the year.Smoking is prohibited during daylight hours during Ramadan, which makes it the perfect opportunity to quit cigarettes. Yes, the nicotine in tobacco smoke is more addictive than heroin, and it is one of the most difficult addictions to beat. But if you can go without smoking for 14-17 hours a day during Ramadan, you can go without it for the remaining 7-10 hours. Ideally, there should be no Muslims who smoke, given the fact that they have to stop doing so for most of a month every year. Sadly, the reality is quite different. Many, many Muslims smoke, and it saddens me–especially since I am a lung specialist who sees firsthand the devastation wrought by cigarette smoking–to see groups of men outside the mosque immediately light up the moment sunset arrives.

Fast Throughout the Year

I must admit that this is the most difficult one for me to follow, but I must mention it anyway. The fast of Ramadan is obligatory for every adult Muslim, but there are numerous other fasts that Muslims are encouraged to undertake throughout the year, and we should try to participate. For instance, Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, encouraged Muslims to fast six days of the month of Shawwal, the month after Ramadan. The reward is equivalent to fasting the entire year. In a few months, the season of Hajj will begin, and those Muslims who do not perform the Hajj are encouraged to fast the day of Arafat, when all the pilgrims will be standing on that plain and begging God for forgiveness. We should fast that day. For Ashura, the day that commemorates the exodus of the Children of Israel from Egypt, Muslims are encouraged to fast that day as well as the day before. (Ideally, Muslims should fast the first nine days of the month of Dhul-Hijjah, when the Hajj occurs.)

For the very ambitious, the Prophet, peace be upon him, used to fast every Monday and Thursday, and if one is able, he or she could follow this Sunnah, or tradition of the Prophet. The very, very ambitious could even fast in the tradition of the Prophet David, peace be upon him; fasting every other day. If this is too much, perhaps we can fast one, two, or three days each month. Whatever the number, we should try to fast outside of Ramadan to help keep the spirit of the month alive in our daily lives.

Qiyam Praying

During the month of Ramadan, Muslims gather together and perform the Isha, or night prayer, and then special devotional prayers, called Tarawih, in congregation (together these are called, qiyam, extra devotional night prayers). It is such a wonderful time, and it is perhaps–after actually getting to eat and drink–the best part of Ramadan. We are all together in the mosque, and we get to hear the entire Qur’an recited if we go every night of Ramadan.

Why not, at home, have your own “mini-Tarawih”? You can either read what you have already memorized, or you can read from the Qur’an itself. If you continue this throughout the year, it is quite possible to finish reading the entire Qur’an many times over. This is an excellent way to keep the feeling and spirit of Ramadan alive.

Charity

Ramadan is also the month of charity. It was said that the Prophet, already the most generous of men, was even more generous during the month of Ramadan. Along with teaching the believer discipline and spiritual focus, the fast of Ramadan is a potent reminder that there are millions of people around the world who must forgo food and drink involuntarily, out of sheer poverty. As a result, Muslims are frequently motivated to give to the poor during Ramadan, and the reward for an act of charity–already substantial–is multiplied many times over in the month of Ramadan. Muslims often discharge their obligatory annual alms tax, the Zakah, during this month.

Yet that does not mean we should be stingy and miserly throughout the rest of the year. We should continue to be generous even when it is not Ramadan, perhaps devoting a little bit of what we earn to help the poor. You could even open a donor-directed fund or a charitable gift fund at a brokerage firm and invest your donations so you could give more. If you want to be even more ambitious, you can start your own charitable endowment, an essential aspect of the classical Islamic tradition that has unfortunately gone by the wayside in modern times.“Haven’t Seen You Since Last Ramadan…”

Another beautiful aspect of Ramadan is the frequent invitation to people’s homes for iftar meals after sunset. Here, Muslims gather and break their fast together. Many times, it is an opportunity to see friends (and maybe even family) they do not normally get a chance to see during the rest of the year. Well, the same theme applies: if you can do it during Ramadan, you can do it at any other time as well. Why not keep up the contacts made during Ramadan throughout the rest of the year? Have monthly gatherings at each other’s homes or at a favorite restaurant. Let it not be another year when you say to a friend, “Wow! I haven’t seen you since last Ramadan!”

For Muslims, the month of Ramadan is the most wonderful time of the year. The benefits and beauties of this month are boundless, and–even though I can once again drink my 24 oz. French-Irish-Vanilla-Chocó-Crème Coffee chino in the morning–I always feel a tinge of sadness when Ramadan is over.

Yet we can keep the spirit of the month alive and well throughout the rest of the year. For that is the whole purpose of the fast, isn’t it- to be conscious of God.

Last Day of Ramadan


In the Name of the Kind and Beautiful Precious Beloved LORD

It is amazing that it is finally here: the final day of the month of fasting. Indeed, it did seem to go by quickly, yet at the same time, however, the days of fasting seemed to never want to end. I am not going to put on a show for you: this year’s fast was quite difficult. The days were very long, and as they went along, I would seem to move in slow motion in the afternoon. I must admit that I am a bit excited to be able to eat and drink during the day once again.

Yet, I did my best. I tried to remain faithful to the fast as much as I could. And even when I did stupid things (like play golf in 98 degree heat) while fasting, never once did I even think about breaking my fast. I stuck with it as best I could because, for my entire life, the Precious Beloved stuck with me through thick and thin.

And so, as Muslims the world over are (or will be) celebrating the end of the month of fasting, I turn to the Precious Beloved in prayer:

Kind and Beautiful, Gracious and Merciful, Majestic and Mighty Precious Beloved LORD OUR GOD.
The end of the month of fasting has now come, and I turn to your Beautiful Face to ask Your pardon.

Forgive me, O LORD, for all the times I wished I was not fasting, because of the depth of thirst and pain of hunger.
Forgive me, O LORD, for all those times that I could not stand up in the night in prayer because of weakness, or fatigue, or laziness
Forgive me, O LORD, for all the times I did not fast completely as I should have fasted, even though You have given me so much
Forgive me, O LORD, for all the times when I did not fully live up to the standard by which You have asked me.

Precious Beloved LORD, I tried my best to be the best servant I can be, and I know I could have done better for Your sake, my Lord. And so I ask thee, my Beautiful Beloved Lord, to forgive me and accept me into Your Holy and Honorable Fold. I tried my best this year, O LORD, and so please accept me and my fast, my prayers, my charity, and my night vigils.

Beautiful Beloved LORD, I love you so very, very much because You have been so beautiful to me for my whole life. And because You, O Beautiful LORD, loved me first when I was nothing. LORD, thank you for every single thing in my life; LORD, thank you for Your Love; and LORD, thank you very, very much for the fast. Please make me a better person because of it.

Ramadan Realities


In the Name of the Kind and Beautiful Precious Beloved Lord

This was published on the Beliefnet blog, City of Brass:

As Ramadan approached, I had no small amount of dread. Fasting, of all the ritual practices of Islam, is the most difficult for me to do. I am not happy to admit this, but this is one of my (many) human weaknesses. Add to that the long, hot days of summer, and you get dread on my face and in my soul. In fact, I addressed this fear in a poetic letter to my soul just before the month began.

Now, Ramadan is here in full force, and I will just have to suck it up and fast. It is strongly recommended to eat a pre-dawn meal/snack called suhoor, and it is for good reason, too, especially in the long days of summer. But, I usually do not do so: I don’t feel well afterwards, and it makes the entire rest of the day even more difficult. I remember once during Residency, I ate gyros for suhoor, and I regretted it SO much. I had horrific heartburn the entire first half of the day, and I could not take anything to make it better. Never again, I said to myself. Mostly, my suhoor is a large heaping of water to help keep me as hydrated as possible for the coming day of fasting.

Yet, no matter how much water I will drink before the time to stop eating and drinking, it is inevitable that I will get thirsty as the day wears on. So, I change some of my routine: I stop working out in the morning throughout Ramadan. I could – theoretically – get up at 3 AM and hit the elliptical…but that is madness. I need sleep more than I need exercise, especially during Ramadan, when I stay up a little later to pray special prayers. So, no exercise for me. Last year, when I was training for the Chicago Marathon, I also skipped my Ramadan runs. And, I was still able to finish the race with a time of 5:37, thanks be to God.

Also, I frequently have “Ramadan stashes” in my lab coat pocket for after sunset: it might be a small pack of M&Ms, or – like yesterday – a piece of Ghirardelli’s chocolate, or a small chocolate bar. The Prophet (pbuh) used to break his fast with dates, and I definitely do that as well. Yet, I take it to the next level: I make a date/milk delight: I soak dates in an ice cold cup of milk for several hours before sunset. Many times, I will also add some walnuts. It is AWESOME. Things such as these makes sunset something to which I look forward, and it makes breaking my fast all the sweeter, both literally and figuratively.

One good thing about fasting during the summer is that there is a lot of time for spiritual reflection and recitation/reading of the Qur’an. And that is the whole point of the fast of Ramadan: to take away food and drink for just enough so that you can think “upward,” and reflect over the enormous blessing of having food and drink every single day and not even thinking about it. Thus, I should be motivated to help the poor and hungry who – many times – do not have even one square meal a day. And suprisingly, many said people are right here in the United States.

And, Lord, are there blessings in Ramadan. Everything seems to go much more smoothly during Ramadan. In fact, many of the most important things in my life have happened during Ramadan. My medical school interview was during Ramadan: I was accepted three months later. I had a very important high school track meet during Ramadan also. My coach told me that, in order for our team to win first place, I had to throw the shot put 42 feet at least: my distance was 42 feet and six inches. Just yesterday, coming home from vacation, the airport security experience was the easiest ever. Yes, I have to not have my coffee in the morning, but there are so many good things that come with the month of fasting.

All in all, Ramadan is a very good thing, but it is not without hardship and dread on my part. All I can do is fast to the best of my ability, try to clean up some of the bad habits I have learned throughout the year, polish my spirituality and improve my ritual practice, and pray that the Precious Beloved Lord accepts my efforts. Knowing how Beautiful He is, I am confident He will do just that.

Read more: http://blog.beliefnet.com/cityofbrass/2011/08/ramadan-realities.html#ixzz1UY3P8qHX

Not Fasting…And Miserable (With Update)


In the Name of the Kind and Beautiful Precious Beloved Lord

This was published yesterday on my Beliefnet blog, Common Word, Common Lord

It is no secret that I have approached this year’s Ramadan fast with an enormous amount of dread. I worried about the hot weather, the long days, the difficulty of having to forgo the things I love to do – eat and drink – for an extended period of time. And as the month started, the fast was – admittedly – quite difficult. But, I did it anyway, because it is one of the things I do for my Lord.

Over the last six weeks, I have been battling a knee injury that I must have sustained while jogging. I suffered through the pain, thinking that it will eventually go away, especially since I am not exercising during Ramadan. The pain, however, did not get better. It has, in fact, gotten worse. So much so, that I went to the Emergency Department yesterday to get it evaluated. I could barely walk into the ED yesterday.

Thank God, everything checked out OK, but I was still in pain, and so – thank God – my Orthopedic Surgeon could see me right away. He injected my knee, which gave me some relief, and I got an MRI which showed some soft tissue inflammation. My surgeon told me that I have to rest and ice the knee as well as take round -the-clock anti-inflammatory medicines.

And this meant having to break my fast to take the medicine. I was hesitant at first, but I knew it was the right thing to do. And my family really pushed me to not fast as well, seeing that my health is of utmost importance (and they are right). And so, today I am not fasting, and I may not fast the next few days either, as I nurse the knee back to health.

You would think that, given all the dread I have about fasting in August, I would be happy to be able to drink and eat during the daylight hours, if even for a short time. You would think that I would be excited to have water and yogurt and maybe even coffee again. You would think that I would be happy that I am not fasting for these few days.

You would be totally wrong. I feel absolutely miserable.

Leave aside the fact that any sudden jolt, and my knee pain becomes excruciating. I feel terrible that I am not fasting. This is not because I have no right to break my fast or am ashamed at doing so. On the contrary, the Quran directs that I should not fast if my health commands that I do not. But, I still feel totally abnormal that I am not fasting.

Not because everyone around me is fasting, and I am not. My colleagues are almost all not Muslim, and so my eating and drinking would not be out of the ordinary at all. Some, many in fact, do not even know that this is Ramadan. Yet, still, I feel weird and uncomfortable. I feel totally out of my norm not fasting during Ramadan. It is almost like my soul is yearning again to fast, even though sunset is almost at 8 PM.

I am completely surprised by this feeling. Yet, I totally can’t help it. Yes, I get tired while fasting; yes, I get thirsty; yes, I feel sleepy, sometimes. But my soul is invigorated while I fast, and now that I am not fasting, I can totally feel the difference.

God willing, my knee will get better soon, and I can resume my fasts. And whatever days I miss, I will have to make up later (probably in the short days of winter!). Yet, still – in a strange sort of way – I miss fasting, even though it is still August. Even though I can’t eat or drink until late, when I fast, my soul basks in the light of God’s Grace and Mercy, and I don’t like not being able to feel that any more.

Update: I talked to my own doctor, and he gave me a different medicine that allows me to fast. It feels wonderful. Indeed, I am thirsty right now as I write this, and I am tired because I had to get up and eat something so I can take the medicine, but I still feel fantastic. There is something to this fasting, and it is truly awesome.

Chicago Tribune: Muslims Promote Ramadan, not Whole Foods


In the Name of the Kind and Beautiful Precious Beloved Lord

This was published on the Chicago Tribune’s religion blog, The Seeker.

 

Initially, I was very disappointed in Whole Foods for apparently “caving” to the screams of a small number of bloggers and choosing not to “promote” Ramadan. Yet, neither Whole Foods, nor any other corporation needs to “promote” Ramadan. Ramadan is not a product in need of a nationwide marketing campaign.

In an e-mail, Whole Foods had this to say:

“There has been a little controversy surrounding the introduction of our Halal certified “Saffron Road” frozen products. While there has been some positive response from our Muslim customers there have been some negative comments from some other customers. While we want to continue with the program, it is probably best that we don’t specifically call out or “promote” Ramadan…we should not highlight Ramadan in signage in our stores as that could be considered “Celebrating or promoting” Ramadan.

It later reversed course, insisting that it will continue the Halal marketing campaign:

Kate here from Whole Foods. To set the record straight, Whole Foods Market is NOT cancelling our current halal promotion, which is centered around the timeframe of Ramadan. We invite shoppers seeking out not just halal certified products, but products that also meet our high quality standards to try Saffron Road and other regional offerings in our stores.

We never sent a communication from our headquarters requesting stores take down signs at all. We have 12 different operating regions and your reacted by sending out directions to promote Halal and not specifically Ramadan after some online negative comments and after viewing signage made by one individual at a store that didn’t point to these products.

We’re excited to be offering high quality halal products for our shoppers and we stand behind them and our promotion of them, just like we do with other seasonal and holiday products.

Nevertheless, they still will not “promote” Ramadan.

Ramadan is the most important spiritual month for Muslims the entire world over, during which the faithful attempt to improve their lives through fasting, meditation, prayer, and charity. Through abstaining from food and drink during the long, hot summer days of August, spending hours in prayer and the reading of scripture, and giving in charity to those who are less fortunate, Muslims all across our country are highlighting what Ramadan is all about.

Placing or taking down signage that says “Ramadan” in some Whole Foods store somewhere will neither enhance nor diminish the importance of the month. Ramadan – as with Passover, Hanukkah, Christmas, and Easter – lives in the hearts and lives of the Muslims, Jews, and Christians who celebrate and honor those times of the year.

Whole Foods can breathe a sigh of relief.

Dr. Hassaballa on the BBC’s Newshour (7/31/2011)


In the Name of the Kind and Beautiful Precious Beloved Lord

By the Grace of the Almighty, I was interviewed on the BBC’s Newshour program on July 31, on the eve of Ramadan, about what Ramadan means to me as a Muslim. You can listen to the program here (skip to Chapter 7 and 8):

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00j30wd#p00jhz8h