by Ahtesham Chaudhry
Ramadan is in its essence a month of physical deprivation. Muslims withhold themselves from eating and drinking from sunrise to sunset for this extended period of time. But, what is interesting about this month is that 1.8 billion Muslims around the world are fervently anticipating its arrival. They celebrate the coming of the month in a way that may seem odd or even somewhat irrational to onlookers. So why do the followers of Islam celebrate this month and eagerly await their 18 hour fasts? According to Islamic history, the month of Ramadan is the period of time in which God began revealing the Holy Quran to Prophet Muhammad (may peace be on him) in the year 609 CE. Thus, it is believed that this month is one where God listens and accepts prayers in a way that is unavailable throughout the rest of the year. The philosophy of Islam figuratively understands Ramadan as a month in which the devil is chained up in hell so as to make it easier for those who hold faith to attain closeness to God. It is for this reason that Muslims shift their focus from materialistic or worldly interests to those things that enhance their spiritual being. In addition to the five mandatory daily prayers, Muslims spend much of the night and early morning hours in supplication. For many non-Muslims, Ramadan is yet another month on the calendar. The purpose and benefit of the zealous prayers and fasts are simply difficult to understand. But, those non-Muslim individuals around the world can and should see the effects of this holy month if they look at the actions of, and their interaction with, their Muslims peers. The followers of Islam are commanded to hold their tongue and remain calm, speak and deal with others with kindness and forgiveness, and give copiously to charity. It would be undoubtedly beneficial to look and analyze the behavior of an individual’s Muslim friends, neighbors, and coworkers on a day to day basis. Those individuals that are described as hot headed can often be seen keeping their cool, those who often fall victim to speaking with a vulgar nature are often seen holding their tongue, and the average man seems to be increasingly interested with the financial state of the less fortunate individuals around them. Muslim individuals who cannot fast due health issues can be seen providing food for entire families. If the month is then reflected on, it becomes apparent that there are changes a person must make to themselves to adhere to the guidelines of the month of Ramadan.
It is with this in mind that Muslims consider Ramadan as a month of spiritual opportunity, a month where the soul can feast and a person can improve themselves. Yet, the only way to benefit from Ramadan is by making positive, lasting changes in oneself beyond the month and into the rest of the year. For those who are not observing Ramadan, this month can be a chance to join Muslim peers in personal reflection and acts of kindness or charity.