“Eat, then, from what God has provided you, things lawful and good, and give thanks for the favours of God, if it be Him you serve”. (The Bee 16:114)
Ramadan Mubarak! Ramzaan Mubarak! Ramadan Kareem!
I am sure you will have seen countless greetings on social media from people as we welcome the month of Ramadan. A month full of blessings, a month of prayer, supplication and an opportunity to press “pause” on the remote control of life. The greetings, whilst all slightly different depending on which part of the Muslim world you originate from, all mean the same thing – congratulations expressed on the month of of fasting. I have, over previous years, posted a daily Ramadan Diary on twitter. A post at sehri or suhoor, the early morning meal that signifies the intention to fast for the coming day. Then again after Iftar, the meal that signifies that the sun has started to go down and the day has come to an end. I’m not sure if I’ll religiously (excuse the pun) do that this year, but yesterday evening after the night time prayer, I was wondering what else I should do.
So, I made a promise that I would write a simple blog about Ramadan, on the day that someone said “what, not even water?” to me. I was not expecting that to happen on day one – I’m sorry Dan but I did warn you :-). So, here goes…
Ramadan is one of what we commonly refer to as the five pillars of Islam. It also happens to be the name of the 9th month of the Islamic calendar. Just as we follow the Gregorian calendar (adopted in this country in 1752) Muslims world-wide follow the Islamic calendar as well. Day 1 of the calendar started when the Prophet Muhammad began his migration (Al Hijrah – AH) from Mecca to Madinah. Because the Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar and can have either 29 or 30 days in the month, Ramadan moves (a bit like Easter) and each year comes 10 days earlier. So next year, Ramadan will start around 13th March. Now, this is great at the moment the days are short and the fasts relatively easy. As we move closer to the winter months, the days and the fast will get shorter. Not so much fun when Ramadan moves into the summer, when we can be fasting from 2.30am until 10.00pm – and yes, that is a complete fast of no food or drink – not even water. The only consolation is, by the time Ramadan falls in July and August next, I will most likely be pushing up daisies (or well into my 80’s – the elderly, sick, infirm pregnant women, travellers and children are exempt from fasting).
Why do we fast? Why do we as Muslims, every year, for 30 days, put ourselves through 14+ hours of hunger, thirst and sleep deprivation? The answer to this is very simple. Because this is an instruction from God:
It was in the month of Ramadan that the Quran was revealed as guidance for mankind, clear messages giving guidance and distinguishing between right and wrong. So any one of you who is present that month should fast, and anyone who is ill or on a journey should make up for the lost days by fasting on other days later. God wants ease for you, not hardship. He wants you to complete the prescribed period and to glorify Him for having guided you, so that you may be thankful. (Quran 2:185)
“O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may develop God-consciousness.” (Quran 2:183).
It is very hard to explain to people who don’t live the experience of fasting what an incredible month it is. I described it above as an opportunity to press pause – re-evaluate the things in life we put so much unnecessary importance on. It is a reminder of the blessings in life that we have been given; food, shelter, family, safety and security. But it is also a reminder that there are many people across the world and right her in the UK, in our own communities, who do not have the luxuries of a fridge full of food let alone a roof over their heads. These should not be luxuries – they should be the very basic human rights afforded to everyone. But we are living in a world where turning the heating on has become a luxury. Parents are going without meals so they can afford to feed their children. People are reducing the number of meals they have so they can afford to pay the bills at the end of the week, or buy a much needed pair of shoes for their child. When I am hungry and thirsty during the day, I know I can eat and drink at dusk. That alone is something I am grateful for, when there are people across the globe who do not have access to clean water, who, when they drink, do not know whether the water will quench their thirst, or kill them.
In order to ease this burden, during the month, Muslims will, as well as focussing on fasting, praying and reading the Quran, will also give more to charity than any other time of year. In the UK, Muslims give around £130 million to charity (or zakat – another one of the 5 pillars referred to earlier) just in the one month.
A month of fasting, praying and giving of charity – it is a most wonderful time of year. A time when family and friends come together to share meals and pray in congregation. This year is extra special as all three Abrahamic faiths will be celebrating significant religious periods. Easter for Christians and Pesach for Jews. Whatever your faith or belief, I wish you peace and pray that we can all work towards creating a fairer, more just society for everyone, regardless of race, religion, colour or creed. A society where those with, open their hearts and provide for those without. Where those who can, support those who are in need go our help. And those in desperate situations, who flee their homes and leave everything behind, are welcomed. Just as all our scriptures instruct us to do.