The Long Fasts of Ramadan
As Ramadan enters the summer months and the fasts get longer, the real sacrifices begin. Can we remain steadfast?
And when it is time to eat, it seems that only a few moments pass, and it is time to stop eating again. (There are only 7 hours between sunset and dawn in the summer, and one must sleep as well). I almost want to eat and drink constantly so I can enjoy the very few hours that I can eat.
It makes me think about how difficult it must have been for the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) and the early Muslim community in Medina, who had to fast in the desert of Arabia. Even in the winter (and I have been to Medina in February), the heat of the day can be unbearable. That is the real Ramadan, and we are now getting a taste of what it must have been like all the time for the Prophet and his companions. Fasting in the summer is the ultimate test of patience and sacrifice, and it is difficult no matter which way one slices it. I pray that the reward of fasting in summer is greater, seeing that it is so much more difficult.
Of course, if someone becomes ill while fasting in the heat, he is allowed to break the fast. And if one is traveling, he or she is allowed to break the fast. And if someone can't fast for health reasons, he or she is allowed to forgo the fast and feed the poor instead. Still, these exceptions do not apply to most of us, and thus we will have to tighten our belts and fast through the dog days of summer (and drink plenty of water before 3:30 a.m.).
Anticipating the summer fasts makes me long for those wonderful days of Ramadan during the winter: Even though I hated the cold, it was nice to be able to break the fast at 4:30 in the afternoon. Moreover, our holy month would frequently overlap with the holy holidays of Jews and Christians, and it was a great opportunity to highlight the similarities and parallels of the three Abrahamic faiths. Alas, there are no such overlaps in the summer, and we Muslims will be "going it alone" for quite some time.
But, come to think of it, there will still be an opportunity to share our faith when Ramadan is in August. I’m sure many people will wonder with amazement why I--and millions upon millions of fellow Muslims--are purposefully depriving ourselves of food and drink during such the hot days. "It's the month of Ramadan," I will tell them, and then I will happily explain what the month is all about, and why we are doing what we are doing. That opportunity to share my faith with my non-Muslim neighbors will be very precious to me.