I have been blessed to enjoy spending parts of my Ramadan in different countries other than the one I reside in; I have spent parts of my Ramadan in places such as Turkey and the United Arab Emirates thus witnessing how different people in different cultural contexts observe Ramadan. This has been indicative of how the significance of Ramadan can be interpreted and experienced in a multitude of ways. Perhaps another thing I forgot to mention is that I am an interfaith adult and convert to Islam, having been brought up in a home where one of my parents is Muslim and having chosen to convert to Islam at a young age through reason and rational investigation, Ramadan for the past ten years has been a spiritual learning curve.
For me, Ramadan signifies an opportunity to renew and further enhance my covenant with my Creator. As the time for suhoor (pre-dawn meal) approaches, while most of my neighbours may be asleep, I take this time to draw closer to Allah through the recitation of Qur’an when praying with members of my family for Fajr (the early morning prayer). The words of God as seen in the Qur’an resonate within my soul with the hope and determination that they will be implemented in my actions, as there is no certainty that I’ll get to enjoy another of life’s moments. In the midst of strengthening my relationship with God, Ramadan also serves as personal reminder of my mortality. Will I ever get to experience such a spiritually nourishing time period again? Will these lessons and spiritual boost that I’ve acquired bare any longevity or was this just the typical “Ramadan phase” that so many Muslims become ritualistically accustomed to only to be forgotten once Eid-ul Fitr comes around. These are among the plethora of questions that are pondered by many (including myself), but intensely self-scrutinised by few.
Regardless of whether one deems themselves the “worst individual in the world” due to not practicing their faith, the reflective advice I give is to never give up in building that spiritual connection with God. One of the many observations I made upon my conversion to Islam, was that the term “Ramadan Muslim” is sometimes used pejoratively to castigate those who are known for not being as observant of their faith outside the parameters of Ramadan.
Essentially there are two ways one could analyse this term. This term could be interpreted to mean exactly as I described, i.e. those who only decide to confine their practice and manifestation of their Islamic beliefs to only during Ramadan. With regard to the former interpretation, it’s quite interesting that those who apply such a term often fall victim to spiritual pride: a trait that is antithetical to the Islamic principles of humility and piety. In one’s bid to develop a profound spiritual attachment to Islam and, correspondingly a more strengthened relationship with their Creator, denigrating others or asserting a superiority complex over your fellow sibling in faith does little in earn the pleasure of God. By doing so the recipient of this harsh treatment isn’t harmed, rather the one who continues to demonstrate such feelings bears the harm of not seeing their how detrimental their character deficiencies are to their spirituality.
Alternatively, the term “Ramadan Muslim” could be used as example of the sweetness felt by Muslims (especially those experiencing weaknesses in faith) during a time where collectively and individually, people make improvements to strive in pleasing God and bettering themselves. It could be through Ramadan that such individuals use it as a reference point to continue in fortifying their faith – it could be that Ramadan that may change their lives. It is this latter interpretation that I hope has a more profound effect.
The month of Ramadan also serves to enhance the ability of an individual to have self-control and restraint, such a quality is revered bearing in mind the society in which I reside in promotes the notions of hedonism and immediate gratification. It is oh so easy for one to be a slave to their lower self and desires, and significantly harder to abstain from peer-pressure and the temptations of pleasure-seeking. During the hours of dawn, whilst the majority of the residents on my street lay tucked in bed reluctant to hear the sound of their alarm, I couldn’t help but observe and admire the discipline that dog owners have. The ability to consistently get up during the early hours of the morning and walk your dog, come rain or shine, is remarkable. I compared it to the diligence required when performing my prayers at the prescribed times. This made me think about the structure and importance of discipline and self-control not only pertaining to my observance of Islam but also the impact it has upon my everyday life. Perhaps the lessons derived from abstinence and self-control could be beneficial to those who are engulfed in the consumerist, hedonistic and fast paced lifestyle.
Perhaps another feature of Ramadan is that in spite of being entrenched in the everyday routines of work and school, Ramadan serves a purpose of reconnecting family members and the wider community at large. While it is not religiously obligated of me to go the mosque for congregational Friday prayers (although I used to try and make sure I went any Friday I could, maybe I liked the company also), I couldn’t help but notice that during times outside Ramadan the mosque seemed less filled. Community cohesion in religious institutions such as the mosque are one of the hallmarks of the Islam, the care and regard for the wellbeing of your fellow sister or brother in faith and the effort exerted into study sessions and meal preparation for breaking the fast fill me with excitement.
During Ramadan, I relay and reflect upon the stories of the Prophets and lessons to be learned – many of which are beneficial and would ameliorate the many problems and ailments permeating in society.
A time reflecting on relationships with members of my family, my friends and the wider community during Ramadan should provide an impetus for which one should always maintain the bond of kinship no matter how hectic life can be. Perhaps seeing the community cohesion in the mosque serves as a reminder of what society used to be like before the iPhone/Android smartphones, the iPads and the Twitter/Facebook accounts: when we all just used to actually TALK to each other.
As the days leading up to Eid-ul-Fitr go by I feel a sense of loss as with each day passing, the serenity that comes with Ramadan slips away. I just hope that I get to experience another month where the sweetness of faith never felt so good. But most importantly, will the lessons and experiences I’ve acquired be enduring and impacting upon my life permanently? I pray and hope that many sections of society, irrespective of one’s religious affiliation (or the lack of) have the opportunity to experience the spiritual nourishment Ramadan offers.