As the sun sets Tuesday, and if a new moon is sighted on the horizon, the Muslim holy month of Ramadan will commence.
To millions of Muslims around the globe, the month of Ramadan is the benchmark of the year. People prepare for it six months in advance, and they continue to reap its blessings and spiritual fruits six months after.
Ramadan is a month of devotion, prayers, fasting, and of course feasting. The month begins with the excitement of moon sighting, not as much of an excitement anymore since many communities’ rely on recalculated lunar calendars. Every day of the month, Muslim families wake up before dawn to eat the pre-fasting meal. In Egypt, where I grew up, people just stayed up all night and meals often were shared by multiple families with neighbors and friends. And as the sun sets, families and communities regather to share breakfast.
The point of most if not all acts of devotions and rituals in Islam is reconnecting people to the world surrounding them, with each other, and obviously reconnecting people with God. We live in a world where we claim to be constantly connected, but the question is: Are we really connected? If that is so, why is loneliness an epidemic that health specialists are warning us against? Rituals in Islam, and for that matter all other religious traditions and belief systems, are means to remind people of their essence and of who they are: social beings.
It is not possible to connect with others, with the world, and with God without first turning inward and reconnecting with ourselves. Ramadan offers this opportunity for people to slow down, to look inward, to embark on a journey of soul finding and refining. Many of my friends who are not Muslims and who have not tried fasting before ask me: Don’t you feel hungry and thirsty? I tell them, I do indeed. It is when I experience the pain of hunger and severity of thirst that I start reconnecting with my true self.
Neither comforted by food nor soothed by water, I am able to recognize my shortcomings and hopefully begin to work on them. It is then that I am able to feel the hunger and thirst of people all around the world and hopefully be moved to do something to relieve their pain. It is then that I realize the many blessings I take for granted and tread on earth with gratitude. It is then that I realize our planet is so generous to us and that we always should be respectful to it, as it might not provide us with clean water to drink and good food to eat.
Traditionally, it is believed that the prayer of a fasting person at the time of breaking their fast is accepted, for they’ve endured this hardship in devotion to God. This year, I will pray at every sunset and with every breaking of a fasting day that God bless our country, our world, and that we find peace in our hearts and in make possible in our world.
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• Imam Hassan Selim leads the Islamic Center of Cedar Rapids and is vice president of the Inter-Religious Council of Linn County.