Ramadan brings beauty, meaning and community

By Roveiza Irfan

More than one billion Muslims around the world will welcome the start of the holy month of Ramadan this week, which began on the evening of Sept. 12 here in Champaign-Urbana. The ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar marks a time when Muslims abstain from food, drink and other indulgences in order to renew their devotion to God. The month is meant to not only allow Muslims to identify with those starving across the world but to teach self-restraint and patience. Ramadan provides an opportunity for both Muslims and non-Muslims to uncover their similarities in human nature and experiences.

Ramadan is the holiest month of the Islamic calendar and it shifts back about 11 days each year in accordance to the lunar calendar. The month provides an opportunity for spiritual rejuvenation, introspection and compassion. It is also the month that the Quran was revealed, when the Angel Gabriel began revealing the chapters of divine guidance to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

The days of Ramadan are filled with blessings; Muslims believe that every good deed done in the month will be multiplied and that it’s imperative to engage in acts that are beneficial spiritually, as in reading and pondering the words of the Quran, as well as contributing to the well-being of the community through charity. Sa’ad Quadri, a teacher of Islamic studies in the Chicagoland area, compares the experience of Ramadan to that of a hospital’s intensive care unit. The experience is trying, draining and stressful, but a person who devotes themselves to God will become stronger and better able to control one’s habits and desires after emerging from the month. Much like a doctor’s prescription, fasting purifies and relieves our hearts of the sicknesses that pervade our lives. The month of Ramadan provides a chance for Muslims to cure their spiritual, moral, social and physical condition.

Fasting is required for those who are physically and mentally able and is marked by the abstention of food and drink form sunrise to sunset. The word Ramadan is derived from the Arabic root word ramida or ar-ramad meaning an intense scorching heat and when used in the context of Ramadan fasting, it indicates the heating sensation in the stomach that comes about due to thirst. In addition to that, Ramadan is a time when Muslims scorch out their sins with good deeds – just like the sand that glistens in the sun’s heat, a believer’s heart is readily amenable to the admonition and remembrance of God due to the Ramadan fast.

The lack of sustenance is not always the most difficult aspect of the fast; for many, the accompanying behaviors – abstaining from lying, refining one’s manners, being more charitable and disciplining one’s self – are the toughest to maintain. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said that if a person does not avoid false talk and false conduct while fasting, then God does not care if he abstains from food and drink.

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In a society of excess, fasting provides a breath of fresh air. It is an opportunity to rejuvenate our spirit and cleanse our soul from the frivolousness that is present in our daily life. These journeys of introspection, spiritual cleansing and charity are not unique to Ramadan but prevalent across all religious traditions. Many Jews fast during Yom Kippur, many Christians exhibit their self-control during Lent, and establishing harmony within the soul and body is stressed in the Hindu and Buddhist traditions.

It is this that highlights the true beauty of Ramadan: the ability to unite communities and to encourage an attitude of peace and generosity. When we fast, we are members of a community of more than a billion people who are all engaging in the same spiritual purification. But we are also a part of a larger community that is trying to find the meaning in our lives, increase charity and accept social responsibility.

Editor’s Note: Roveiza Irfan is the communications coordinator for the University of Illinois Chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations.

CAIR-UIUC invites the campus community to participate in an interfaith fast and fast-breaking dinner on Sept. 27. For more info, contact [email protected]