The Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which is observed this year through the evening of June 24, is a time of prayer, charity and fasting. This week’s clergy discuss how self-discipline during Ramadan can lead to spiritual reflection and renewal.
Chaplain, Islamic Society Interfaith Center, Stony Brook University
Ramadan is a time for spiritual cleansing. Through the ritual of fasting, Muslims are called on to reflect how their religious beliefs intersect with the traditions in Islam. The ninth month of the Muslim calendar commemorates the revelation of the holy Quran to Prophet Muhammad, through Archangel Gabriel over 1,438 years ago. The holy Quran states that fasting has been prescribed to Muslims as it has been prescribed to all nations. The month of Ramadan is a spiritual retreat. The process of fasting from dawn to sundown is a form of detoxification, enabling the mind to engage with the spirit in a deep philosophical contemplation of human purpose.
Muslims use the teachings of Islam to think deeply about their actions. In Ramadan, Muslims are encouraged to reflect on the majesty of God’s creation and to think holistically about the blessings and bounties that God has bestowed on them. Muslims are similarly encouraged to practice patience and to perfect their manners in order to feel closer to God and the Prophet Muhammad. In the month of Ramadan, the bond between families and communities grows stronger through the practice of fasting, and, oftentimes, a sense of love and affection permeates because of this collaborative journey of purification.
At the end of the month, there is a night when the process of spiritual cleansing all comes together. It is called the “Night of Destiny,” which the Quran describes as a night when worship is more valued than a thousand months of worship. The Quran also asserts that angels roam the earth on this night and blessings from the heavens heal the mind and spirit through the penetration of divine light.
Muslim Reform Movement Organization, Brookville Multi-Faith Center
During the month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from pre-dawn to sunset every day, and it is thus a month of rigor and discipline. The fast requires that you don’t eat or drink during the day and discipline yourself not to give in to the temptation of food. People who fast find the resourcefulness within themselves to say, “I don’t eat simply because I want to, or I am bored or tired, or feeling weak. I will eat later at the right time.” This helps develop a discipline that is useful throughout life as it protects us from overeating, obesity and associated diseases.
Another aspect of Ramadan is that people wake up early; they have their meal two hours before sunrise. Gaining control over sleep raises spiritual awareness as it enables us to be deliberate about when we go to sleep and when we wake up. People find it uplifting to rise early and experience the peace that prevails in the early morning. This is a good time for introspection, to think about where your life is going. In this quiet hour, you can pray, read the Quran or something else that inspires you. The tone we set in our minds in the morning stays with us during the ensuing day. When we experience the pangs of hunger during fasting, we can more directly relate to the suffering of people in places where there is lack of food, and this motivates us to give more in charity.
Faroque Ahmad Khan
Trustee of the board, Islamic Center of Long Island, Westbury
For me, spirituality is basically gaining awareness beyond yourself. Ramadan forces you into that. Because you are not eating or drinking, you become sensitized to the conditions in the environment beyond you. You reflect on the world’s conflicts, people struggling with poverty, oppression, conflict, hunger and wonder how you can help the millions of refugees who have no shelter, food or security.
During Ramadan, Muslims become more charitable. One of the five basic pillars of Islam is zakat, which means purification of one’s wealth by sharing it and donating at least 2.5 percent of it. There is a lot of self-reflection and introspection, and during the last 10 days of Ramadan, some Muslims break away from worldly affairs and live in the mosque, following the tradition of Prophet Muhammad.
At the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury, there is a sizable number of Muslims who perform the 10-day introspection, called I’tikaaf. The person who follows this is called mu’takif. He eats, drinks and sleeps in the masjid for 10 days. This is a time of deep introspection, self-critique and study of the holy Quran with the ultimate goal of becoming a better human being and seeking Allah’s blessings, forgiveness and a place in heaven, which is the ultimate goal for all believers.