In the Name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful
This past week, darkness gave way to light. On Tuesday, our nation commemorated the sixth anniversary of the September 11 attacks. Six years ago, it was also a Tuesday morning, when "everything changed," and I entered into Islam for the first time in my life, even though I had been born into and raised in the faith. My colleagues and I were sitting in the hospital physician lounge this past Tuesday and talked about where we were when we first learned of the 9/11 attacks.
One had been in the very same lounge; another had been in Ireland playing golf when he got a cell phone call. I had walked into another physician lounge – the residents' lounge at the training hospital at which I worked – and beheld the smoke billowing from the towers and hoping for the best (and fearing for the worst). So much has happened in those six years; so many lives have been changed; so much has transpired in the world around us. Yet, the pain of that day endures. The audacity of the act of mass murder still renders me speechless. Even though time has passed, we will never forget. We will never forget.
Yet, as the day passed (and I became happy that I did not have to write any more "9/11"s on pieces of paper), I began to look forward to days of peace, holiness, and renewal. The month of Ramadan has finally come, and it has started in full force today. Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, is the month during which Muslims fast (abstain from food, drink, and other sensual pleasures) from dawn (5:15 AM) until sunset (7:05 PM) for a full thirty days.
It is a month of spiritual renewal, discipline, generosity, and reflection. It is a month where we stop focusing on ourselves and turn our focus to others – namely God, but also to those who are less fortunate than we. Blessings, mercy, and holiness abound during this month, and it is always a very happy time for Muslims, even though they can't eat or drink (not even water) throughout the daylight hours.
And those hours are getting longer and longer. Since Ramadan is a lunar calendar, the month rotates backwards around the solar calendar in 11 day increments. Thus, for the next 10-15 years, Ramadan will fall in the…gulp…summer months, when dawn in 3:30 AM and sunset does not come until 8:30 PM. Not only that, the days will be hot, very hot, as well as long…very long. It is a taste of the real Ramadan; that of the days of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his companions in Medina.
I have thought about these days with a bit of dread – I must admit – because, the day is so long. It is tough, but I know the Lord will help us through the dog days of summer fasting that lie ahead. Today's fast has been one of the toughest I have had in a very long time: even though sunset was at 7:05 PM. Not only was the day long, but I had to forgo coffee in the morning – and I was walking around like a zombie due to caffeine withdrawal. Yet, it is all for a good cause: the Prophet (pbuh) said that whoever sincerely fasts the month of Ramadan, all of his or her past sins will be forgiven.
Another nice aspect of Ramadan this year is that it exactly coincides with the start of the Jewish High Holy Days: Rosh Hashana started on the same day as Ramadan, and next week – right in the middle of Ramadan – Jews will also be fasting in observance of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. It is a nice overt manifestation of the common source of the faith of the children of Abraham and of the fact that our communities have much in common.
Although the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians continues to burn in the Holy Land, it is my hope and prayer that the common occurrence of the Jewish and Muslim High Holy Days causes people in both communities to move together in brotherhood and sisterhood, cherishing our common heritage and our common Creator.
And it is my sincerest hope and prayer – in these days of High Holiness – that the conflict that so ravages the Holy Land will come to an end as soon as possible, so that people of all faiths can glorify, praise, and sanctify the Most Holy One in peace, security, and serenity. In Your Most Holy Name do I pray thus, O Lord. Amen.