Muslims often refer to the holy month of Ramadan, which begins this year around September 13, as if it were a guest passing through town and staying at their home. But unlike real-world guests who often overstay their welcome, the presence of this one is savored each day. In Ramadan we fast each day–this means no food, drink, or physical relations from sunrise to sunset–this is accompanied by reflections and readings from the Holy Qur’an and extra congregational prayers given at night.
It might be hard for those who aren’t Muslim to understand how we look forward to a month that seems to have a central theme of self-denial. Even those who understand the spiritual benefit of fasting might think that 30 days is pushing it a bit. But there’s more to Ramadan than just the denial of the eating and drinking instinct. Much, much more. And we’ll be getting into that during the whole month of Ramadan in this special blog.
During Shaban–the month that precedes Ramadan–Muslims begin to prepare themselves both mentally and physically for the task ahead. It isn’t so much to make the task easier as much as it is to maximize its benefit. As the soul begins to quiet, the anticipation builds–until that night when the sliver of the new moon is first seen, marking the start of Ramadan.
For Muslims, Ramadan is a chance to renew their commitment to the religion and to equip themselves with the discipline necessary to stay on the sirat-ul-mustaqeem–the straight path. Being an unapologetic geek, I like to use the analogy of Ramadan being an annual “clean install” of my religion. Fasting clears the body and mind of the accumulations of the past year, and reflections on the Qur’an and sustained prayer rewrite my faith on my soul.
The experience of being a Muslim in America brings its own challenges in particular, and our task is to preserve the benefits of this blessed months while still negotiating the responsibilities of a working life and not unduly burdening those around us. It is a challenge which, I believe, brings additional benefits for the fasting Muslim in America.
I invite you to join me this month as I show you a little bit of what Ramadan in America is like, in the hope of sharing a little of its beauty and conveying an understanding of what your Muslim friends might be going through this month. Sometimes the topics will be mundane, at other times uplifting. But it’s all part of the very special and unique experience of Ramadan.