Why Muslims Fast During Ramadan

Edited to say:
My heart goes out for the LGBTQ+ community, the victims, and their families. It’s unfair, it’s unsafe, it’s hate.
But amidst the hatred that is so rampant in this world, amidst the injustice and abuse, I will always find comfort in knowing that there will be justice for the wrongs of this world. For me, that comfort is religion.
Right after celebrating and honoring one of the most beautiful representatives of Islam, Muhammad Ali. And right in the middle of the Holy Month of Ramadan, when Muslims are supposed to become, not only better Muslims, but better human beings, this horrible incident occurred. Again, I’m praying for the families of the victims and praying that unity, compassion, and love can be found amidst this injustice and hate.
I wrote a post, sharing my thoughts and beliefs on our beautiful month of Ramadan. These are just a few words of an individual, who believes that humanity, love, equality, and religion can all be used fervently in the same sentence.

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Reminiscing on the life and on the recent passing of Muhammad Ali has been a reminder of what it truly means to be a Muslim to me. And to be a Muslim, accordingly, is to understand and appreciate the holiest month in Islam: Ramadan.

As of this moment, there are billions of people around the world who have deprived themselves of bare necessities. Billions of people, who will not eat and drink as long as the sun is up in the sky, are observing Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar.
During this month, Muslims abstain from eating and drinking, and also from sexual activities, engaging in bad habits/addictions, foul language/behavior, etc, from dawn to sunset. Muslims partake in Suhoor (the Islamic term for the pre-dawn meal) about an hour or two before the fast begins and break the fast with Iftar, immediately as the sun begins to set.  (Note:  those who are ill, traveling, on medications, pregnant, etc are exempted from fasting.)

As a Muslim who had a very shaky foundation and understanding of the religion of Islam, I had spent my youth with the belief that Ramadan was simply a month-long period of starvation or some sort of “religious atonement”. Therefore, I spent year after year, experiencing Ramadan with various distorted emotions/perspectives; one year with the fear of failure, that I wouldn’t be “successful” at completing the rituals associated with Ramadan (such as the Taraweeh night prayers or being able to read the Qur’an every day). Another, with the anxiety that I wouldn’t be able to function properly at school without food/water. And still another, simply wasting/napping the day away while waiting to break my fast at 8:30 PM.  Year after year, I spent the time period completely oblivious to the actuality and beauty of Ramadan.

And as the world remembers and honors the life of Muhammad Ali, I am reminded of how he was such a beautiful representative of my faith.
As a fighter for justice, as a champion against adversity, and as a leader of the oppressed, Ali embodies the essence of and necessity for Ramadan perfectly.

Muhamma-AliUpon his conversion to Islam and all throughout his life, Ali’s religion was held against him and even used as a source of mockery and insult; his adherence to Islam’s tenets of freedom and justice were ironically, questioned by the very country that itself boasts of “freedom and justice”. His refusal to serve in the Vietnam War on the grounds of his religious/moral beliefs cost him greatly. And yet, losing his career, his title, his popularity, meant nothing to Ali if it meant compromising his beliefs to fight in what he believed to be an unjust war. Ali’s heart remained resilience and powerful, through every adversity and test that was thrown at him, throughout his life and even up to his death. “All of his organs failed but his heart wouldn’t stop beating.” Even on his deathbed, Mohammad Ali’s heart remained strong and a true testament to his faith.

This, to me, this is exactly the point of Ramadan.

Islam puts a huge emphasis on the heart as the main source of wisdom and understanding, and equally, as the main target of pain and suffering. Muslims believe that our hearts are very much alive, not only in the physiological sense, but in a spiritual/transcendental state as well.

We believe that the heart is constantly in a state of war. Whether it’s the struggle against the self or the conflict against oppression and injustice or the fight against addiction and temptation, it is our hearts that lead us into the battle and it is our hearts that are bruised and battered and either weakened or strengthened.

Thus, in a world full of blows and punches, Ramadan is our training program for the boxing ring of life.
The one month of Ramadan trains us for the matches of the next 11 months of the year–rather, for the rest of our lives. Ramadan trains us to endure and overcome whatever punches life will throw at us.

But how does Ramadan strengthen us, how does this time period strengthen our hearts?

Not eating and drinking are only the physical requirements of fasting. More eminent (and much more difficult) are the spiritual ones. Refraining from backbiting, lies, anger, jealousy, bad habits while simultaneously striving to do good in this world, through acts of worship, charity, and benevolent interactions with fellow humans and animals, are all requirements of fasting as well.

Our fasts, as ironic as it may seem, are not to cause us hardship, but instead to grant us ease as we struggle through the trials of this life.

Ramadan is when we live the teachings of Islam and must truly practice what we preach.

As we fast, we practice patience and tolerance, as we hold back our angry retorts, especially in the face of adversity and injustice.
As we fast, we resist the urge of hurting others, through lies, gossip, and slander.
As we fast, we shift our ever-insatiable thoughts of desire, money, competition, comparison and instead focus on connecting with our Creator.
As we fast, our souls are cleansed, purified, and strengthened as we are liberated by the chains of resentment and bitterness and bruised egos and disappointment. We find peace in relying on our Creator and understanding that He will never disappoint us nor will He forsake us.
As we fast, we rid ourselves of selfishness and our worldly desires and instead focus on helping our brothers and sisters in humanity.
As we fast, we rid the heart of resentment, hurt, jealousy and instead fill it with gratitude, peace, and love.

We fast to practice Islam to its true sense:  by being the most giving of neighbors, the most trustworthy of co-workers, the most compassionate of friends, and the most benevolent of humanity.

Ramadan is no easy task, requires a lot of discipline, willpower, humility, and self-restraint.  But in the end, this time period allows us to feel grateful, be in greater control of our own desires, take care of the hungry and poor, change our habits and lifestyles for the better, find comfort in our Creator and (therefore) feel a peace of mind that is often never felt during other times of the year, and gain the discipline and strength to be resilient through life’s tests.

Now, as the world remembers Muhammad Ali’s legacy, as the world honors him as the legend that he is in the realm of sports, social justice, and civil rights, we must remember that he was also a shining representative of the teachings of Islam: of strength, of struggle, of humanity, of mercy, of solidarity, of love.

I hope that this information will be enlightening for all of us, not just for the Muslims that read these words. I hope that this will be educational; a small, albeit significant step in creating a more humane, understanding, and peaceful world for us all.

-Amna ❤

 

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