Beginner's Heart

It’s Ramadan, and I’m remembering last year’s Ramadan, working in an office w/ a dear friend who is an observant Muslim. Trying to juggle my own need for lunch (I am sooo cranky when I don’t eat!) and my respect for her spiritual commitment. Eating an apple quietly 🙂

I had hoped this year to observe  Ramadan, as I try to observe many religious rituals from other faiths. Ramadan is one of my favourites.

What a lovely commitment, if you think about it: to choose to go hungry, thirsty, without… so that you can know what it’s like to be without food, as so many are. To pay more attention to things of the spirit — for Muslims, of course, this means studying the Qur’an, being even more mindful of the teachings of Islam — to be more mindful of our many daily gifts… I love this.

And for Buddhists, it’s a gentle reminder of what it is to be mindful. That it’s hard, a constant challenge, so hard that Islam requires it (as does Christianity) for only one month of the year — a renewal of vows, in a way : ).

I’ve thought many times of trying to keep Ramadan. In Muslim cultures, children start ‘practicing’ quite young — they’re not required to keep Ramadan until puberty, but many begin as pre-teens or younger. I think of myself as a kind of pre-teen when it comes to this month of reflection and practiced empathy. I’m not a Muslim, but years of living in Muslim countries and my many dear Muslim friends have shown me what a wonderful exercise in disciplined reflection Ramadan can be.

American Muslim soldiers celebrating the end of Ramadan at the Fort Jackson, S.C., Joe E. Mann Center last year. (Fort Jackson Leader/Wikimedia Commons)

Because Ramadan isn’t simply about going hungry from dawn to dusk. Or even abstaining from temptations, an admirable goal. It’s about the knowledge, manifested much like Christian Lent (only even more so) that many in the world go without daily necessities. And that we are fortunate in this country (indeed, blessed :)) to be able to eat and practice our own faiths. Not the case in many places in the world…

And as the picture reminds us, there are many American Muslims. My friend Soha’s husband has his American citizenship, and is proud of it, working at the university as a professor in sustainable energies. Soha and Khaled’s two children are as American as any multicultural children in America. They’re also Muslim, and working at keeping Ramadan, even the youngest.

It’s hard being mindful. Especially when there are no paths marked for you. So I celebrate the usefulness for this beginner’s heart of remembering that throughout the world, many are at risk for their religious and spiritual beliefs.  Many go hungry, thirsty, w/out the bare necessities because of who and where they are. And I count my own blessings :).

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