In the Name of the Kind and Beautiful Precious Beloved Lord
This was published in Middle East Online (http://www.middle-east-online.com/english/?id=47376).
Update: This was also published in the New York Times/International Herald Tribune.
Ramadan begins August 1 this year, and I must admit that it begins with no small amount of dread for me. Fasting, an essential pillar of ritual in Islam, consists of abstaining from food, drink, and other sensual pleasures from dawn (before sunrise) until dusk. Because the Islamic calendar is a lunar one, Ramadan travels backwards along the solar calendar, and this means that for the next ten years Ramadan will fall during the summer months.
That will mean very hot and very long days, and distressingly short nights. I remember Ramadan being in June when I was about 12 years old, and it was hard then. I have since become much older, and thus, fasting during the summer has become much more difficult for me. Last year, when only a part of Ramadan was in August, I had a tough time. This year, all of August is Ramadan, and therefore — although I hate to say it — I am scared.
Of course, if fasting poses bodily harm on a person, he or she should not fast, and can feed the poor instead. In addition, pregnant and nursing mothers, people with chronic illnesses, and those traveling do not have to fast. Indeed, I could contemplate traveling the entire month of Ramadan, but I would likely not have a job waiting for me when I come back. And I have to make up the days I missed later.
So, I am going to have to suck it up and fast.
It shames me to admit that I am so scared to fast, because, the month of Ramadan is chock full of blessing and reward from God. The sins of the fasting person are completely erased, and Prophetic tradition is full of tremendous benefit for those who fast. In addition, the act of forgoing food and drink during the daylight hours allows one to reflect upon the poor and hungry who — out of sheer poverty — may quite often have to forgo food and drink. My hunger and thirst should remind me and motivate me to help relieve their suffering through charitable giving and work.
Moreover, there is a tremendous spiritual cleansing that comes with the fast of Ramadan. More than just depriving myself of food and drink, if only for a few (or rather this year, several) hours, I must not engage in bad behavior. Ideally, I should finish the month of Ramadan a better person than when I started it. Thus, I really should be happy that Ramadan is coming up so quickly, and I should be looking forward to fasting.
But, I am not. It is going to be hot, I will have to stop eating at around 4 AM, and the sun will not set until well after 8 PM. The only saving grace is that the days are getting shorter. Normally, this makes me sad. During Ramadan, however, it brings me no small amount of joy. Yet, that is the point of the fast, if one is able to do it. It is a physical and spiritual challenge, and God knows it is difficult. That is why He says in Muslim tradition: “Fasting is for Me, and I give the reward for it.” Struggling a little to fast for the sake of God is the essence of jihad, not violence and murder, as some radical Muslims believe.
All throughout August, Americans will see “Sharia law,” which some are wont to ban through legislation, live and in person by the throngs of Muslims waiting until after sunset to eat, drink, and be (very) merry. There is no threat at all in this. By making American Muslims better neighbors, better friends, better co-workers, and better people, the fast of Ramadan is only a good thing, for both the country and the world.