Yes, I do shudder to think of the first few days of the fast, when I will suffer from caffeine withdrawal. But that is the whole purpose of Ramadan: I have to give up what I want to do what God wants. It is one of the themes of Ramadan: sacrifice. Another theme is discipline, which is particularly poignant for me. Everywhere I go during Ramadan, freshly brewed pots of coffee beckon to me. In fact, it seems that the coffee during Ramadan smells more fresh, more sweet, and more flavorful than any other time. I could quite easily drink a cup (or two, or three) without anyone finding out. Yet, I refuse to do so because I am fasting, and this takes discipline.
But the most important themes of Ramadan are charity and compassion. When I fast, I am reminded of the poor. I am reminded of those who are forced to go without food and drink out of dire poverty, including people here in America. Thus, I am moved to help the needy during Ramadan and afterwards. In fact, Ramadan is commonly the time when Muslims dispense their annual zakat, or obligatory alms-tax to the poor. Moreover, Muslims have to pay an additional amount of wealth to the poor, the sadaqat-ul-fitr, typically $10 per member of the family. It must be given before Ramadan finishes.
One thing, however, that always deeply offends and angers me is the "terror alerts" issued because of Ramadan, and I lay the blame on the terrorist mutants who call themselves Muslim. Ramadan is a month of spiritual rebirth and meditation. It is not a month of "slaying the infidels wherever you find them." It is true that the Prophet fought some of his battles during Ramadan, particularly the most important of these, the Battle of Badr. But these battles, such as the one at Badr, were thrust upon him, and he was not the first to start hostility. Many who seek to malign the Prophet point to the fact that, after "running for his life" to Medina, he immediately started raiding the caravans of Mecca, fulfilling his "bloodthirsty urge for war." This is a gross distortion of the truth.
When the Muslims, including the Prophet, emigrated to Medina, they left most of their wealth and possessions behind them in Mecca. This wealth was seized by the Meccans for their caravans and therefore was an act of war. The Prophet, in raiding Meccan caravans, seeked to reclaim the wealth that was taken from them. The Battle of Badr was a direct result of one such caravan raid. Word had gotten to the Meccans that the Prophet was after a particularly large caravan of theirs, and they sent an army to protect it. The leader of the caravan, Abu Sufyan, successfully escaped from the Prophet's forces. When learning of this, some of the chiefs of Mecca suggested they go back to Mecca and not fight the Prophet, since the caravan was safe. The majority, however, decided to continue the attack, seeking to destroy the young Islamic community.
The violent mutants use this fact to justify their acts of murder in the name of Islam, claiming the Prophet fought "jihad" in the month of Ramadan. The Prophet fought in self-defense; these terrorists kill innocent people. There is no moral equivalence between the two. The Prophet has said, "Whoever does not give up forged speech and evil actions [while fasting], God is not in need of his leaving his food and drink (i.e., God will not accept his fasting," (Bukhari). What could be more evil than killing an innocent human being? What could be more evil than violating the sancitity of human life? The fasting Muslim can not even speak a word of evil; how can these people--by any stretch of the imagination--justify murder by saying "the Prophet fought during Ramadan"?
In fact, during Ramadan, non-Muslim Americans should be invited and encouraged to go to the local mosque and share in Ramadan activities. There should be more community dinners, where non-Muslim Americans come and break bread with their Muslim neighbors at sunset. Ramadan should be a time of community, not a time when Americans must remain indoors because of terrorism concerns.
Having said all that, it is true that Ramadan is a month of jihad. It is the jihad of refraining from drinking coffee in the morning, even though every cell of my body aches for a cup. It is the jihad of not eating and drinking despite ravenous hunger and thirst. It is the jihad of standing many hours in prayer in the mosque, even if I am exhausted from a day's work. It is the jihad of reaching into my pocket and giving to the poor, even if I need that money to buy the food with which to break my own fast. It is the jihad of remaining calm and polite, even if someone is acting rudely or unjustly to me. That is the jihad of which I speak.
Ramadan is not a month of blowing up buses, attacking school children, setting off car bombs, and hijacking planes. That is not jihad. It is cold-blooded murder. It has nothing to do with Ramadan or Islam, and I am sick of it.