This is a guest post by Irfan Rydhan.
For the past 25 + years, I have been participating in the holy month of fasting – called Ramadan in Arabic, for Muslims. Of course my levels of participation have increased over the years. Every year I try to do a little bit more than the previous year. Whether that means trying to read more Quran, memorize more duas (supplication), or going to the mosque every night for the Taraweeh (extra night prayers) during Ramadan – My goal is to increase my spiritual development and growth.
In recent years, although it is not required to do so, I have tried my best to avoid listening to music (although I still listen to some Nasheeds or “religious” music) on the radio or on my computer and also do not watch any TV while I am fasting. I think it is important to try to focus as much as possible on one’s spiritual growth and development during Ramadan. Since most music and TV these days focus on the “Dunya” (affairs of the world), I find it helps me to avoid them while I’m fasting. As a TV and movie junkie, I find it very difficult to do sometimes, but it is definitely do able and I feel that my will power get’s stronger as I get deeper into Ramadan. Many times, I don’t even want to watch TV after I break my fast at sunset, because I would rather pray or just try to focus on relaxing my mind, which is hard to do with all the noise of TV.
Recently I’ve become a “social media” junkie and go on facebook, twitter and now Google + all the time. This year, I hope to limit (although I probably won’t cut it out completely) my internet use this Ramadan.
Besides praying and fasting in Ramadan, Muslims are encouraged to do good deeds and actions during this holy month, such as helping the poor and feeding the needy in order to get more multiple blessings and rewards from God. So the past 10 years or so, I have been paying my zakat (obligatory charity) during the month of Ramadan. I usually split up my zakat into 3 or 4 parts and send the money to local as well as international charities. Sometimes, I give a portion of my zakat to local Muslims who I know personally that may need financial help. It feels good to help people out, especially if you can see how your zakat can help them first hand.
Another great event which I participate in during Ramadan is the annual “Human Dignity Day”, where for the past 8 years, several Bay Area Muslim mosques, organizations and businesses get together and provide hot meals, water, t-shirts and hygiene packs to the homeless people of San Jose, CA. This is a great event, because while fasting Muslims get a small “taste” of what it’s like to be hungry and during this time, we also feed and help to clothe our fellow human beings who are struggling on the streets for several months or years with very little food or shelter. Since we Muslims follow a Lunar calendar, our Islamic months move up approx. 11 days through the Georgian (regular solar calendar) every year. Because Ramadan will be during the hot summer months here in North America for the next few years, all of us Muslims will really get to feel how difficult it is to be without food or water while we are fasting. This will hopefully make us more thankful for the things we have and also feel more sympathetic to the poor people who are hungry and thirsty all year long!
One of the most recent things I have started to do to increase my spiritual development during Ramadan is the act of going out and looking for the Hilal (new crescent moon) to signify the start and end of Ramadan. Last year was the first time that I actually went with a big group out to the Santa Cruz Mountains to participate in this ancient tradition of “moon sighting.” Obviously, since we now live in a time of modern technology and scientific achievements, many people – including most Muslims in North America, no longer see the need to actually go out and look for the moon with our naked eyes, as our past generations have done, but because my late father was a strong proponent of it, I felt the need to try it out for myself. It was definitely a spiritually moving experience – especially because there was a large group of Muslims, both young and old together, who were waiting for the appearance of the new moon. It was like waiting for the birth of a child or an arrival of an old friend we haven’t seen for awhile. Sometimes, we aren’t supposed to know when something will happen, but when it does we are happy and feel grateful we actually saw it and we are in awe of the amazing world we are blessed to live in. I highly recommend that every Muslim try moon sighting at least once in their life and let their children participate as well. It may change your whole perspective on life and how we all participate in Ramadan – which is supposed to be a time of reflection and spiritual growth, not just eating Pakoras and other fatty fried foods at iftaar parties!
Irfan Rydhan is a “Multi-Media” Muslim Activist who lives in the Bay Area. He is an Architectural designer by profession (B.A. Architecture, 1997 U.C. Berkeley), but a passionate enthusiast in media arts and activism. His background includes non-profit management, film/video production and graphic art/design. He currently serves as Public Relations Director for Illume Magazine and has his own blog about Architecture, Islamic Art, Media and Halal Food called: Al Mihrab: The Place of War.