In the Name of God, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful
God willing, the month of Ramadan starts at sundown tonight. Thanks be to the Lord God, I have been given another year to witness the enormous blessings, mercy, and rewards of this blessed month. For those of you not familiar with Ramadan, it is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar, during which Muslims are commanded to fast the daylight hours, from before sunrise to sunset. The fast is a complete abstention from food, drink (yes, even water), smoking, and marital relations. The month lasts between 29 and 30 days.
Ramadan is a very special month. It is the month when the Qur’an was first revealed to the blessed Prophet (pbuh). During the month, according to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) the gates of Hell are closed, the gates of Heaven are opened, and demons and devils are chained throughout the month. Each act of ritual obligation is rewarded several times over, and even extra acts of devotion are rewarded generously by God. It is an enormous opportunity to increase one’s spirituality, one’s closeness to God, and it helps cleans the soul from the innumerable impurities that accumulate as one navigates through daily life.
It is a very happy time for Muslims, and I do really look forward to Ramadan each year. Yet, I must be completely honest, I do approach each year’s fast with a bit of trepidation. I absolutely love my coffee in the morning, and the Ramadan fast deprives me of this daily must. Each morning I have a BIG cup of coffee, full of freshly brewed joe, sugar, non-dairy creamer, and two additional cream packets of either hazelnut or French Vanilla flavor. I look forward to this cup each day, and there is not a day that goes by that I don’t drink coffee.
Yet, during Ramadan, I can’t indulge in this pleasure. What’s more, all around me sit freshly brewed pots of coffee that beckon me to have a cup. In fact, it seems that the coffee seems fresher, crisper, and nicer during Ramadan, precisely when I can’t drink it. Moreover, I just know that everyone will bring in the most exotic cream flavors – Creme brule, Irish cream, and Swiss chocolate – to share with everyone…and all I can do is watch and smile. It makes me shudder even thinking about it now…and it is not even Ramadan yet!
Yet, when I think about it a little more, my trepidation over coffee before Ramadan is the whole purpose of the month of fasting. God said in the Qur’an that “fasting has been prescribed for you as it was prescribed for the people before you so that you may attain consciousness of God” (2:183). The fast is designed to wean me off the dependencies of this earthly life and gravitate me to the servitude of God. The fact that I shudder when I think about not drinking coffee because I have to fast indicates a dependency upon something other than God. Ideally, I should be able to happily abstain from coffee – because God told me to – and not even blink. It should be nothing for me to give up coffee altogether if my Beloved asks me to do so. Ramadan helps train me to do this.
I am a servant of God, and that means that I should do whatever God wants me to do without a peep of protest. Now, I must confess: I fall WAY short of this ideal each and every day. So many times, unfortunately, I have put my own selfish desires before God’s interests, and I ask His forgiveness for it. Ramadan allows me to live the ideal of a servant of God: voluntarily I give up things normally allowed to me, namely food and drink, for no other reason than God told me to. In fact, I can easily sneak a cup of coffee in a patient room or an empty conference room in the hospital, and no one would ever know. Yet, I would never do something like that. My Beloved told me to fast, and thus, there is no coffee for this Muslim coffee fanatic.
That willful abstention from coffee must come happily, and that is one spiritual project for me this year. I have a number of other spiritual projects to complete this year, and I hope and pray that I am successful in my spiritual tasks. If I do fall short, then I hope and pray the Lord gives me another year of life so I can witness Ramadan once more and reaps its enormous spiritual rewards.
Every Ramadan brings an opportunity and a challenge: the opportunity is to polish the spirit so that the light of God – long obscured by my sins and shortcomings – is allowed to shine through and illuminate my way. The challenge is to keep that light from becoming dim once again, and it is a most difficult jihad. But it is a jihad well-worth taking up, and I will become all the better for it.