For the last couple of years I’ve been meaning to keep a Ramadan journal of spiritual reflections. It seemed like a natural outgrowth of the “tweeting the Qur’an” initiative. It’s always fallen flat. I never have the discipline. And then it occurred to me that it is a discipline, like all other writing. I need to stop aiming so big and just start writing. I’m using this space to keep myself honest. I’m not sure I have much to say on a day-to-day basis, but the brief reflections I have every day seem like they could be a good weekly journal.
Day 0 - Monday, July 8, 2013
There are two basic ways in which Muslims know when a lunar month begins: visual sighting and calendaring. I belong to a community that uses astronomical calculation to determine when the lunar months begin. As a result, I know that tonight, the night of Monday, July 8, 2013, will the first night of Ramadan, and tomorrow will be the first day of fasting.
The proximity of Ramadan and American Independence Day have me thinking about act and process. When we consider Independence Day, it seems to mark an event that is completed. However, I would argue that it is a commemoration of a work in progress. It is a reminder to constantly fight for what is right and just, because we need to hold ourselves and our community to a higher standard than what our natural inclination is to be. Omid Safi references Martin Luther King, Jr. about the unfulfilled dream that is America. Omid’s piece puts me in a frame of mind that says to be a good American is to be in a constant state of loyal opposition, to constantly push and demand for something better.
Ramadan functions in a similar way for the spirit. It is about the individual acts of fasting, but it is also about the beginning of a process. The end of Ramadan is not the end of the process, but the beginning of a process that continues until the next Ramadan, when it is renewed. It is about acknowledging our blessings, being willing to share those blessings, and focusing ourselves on being better people. But it is also not an individual endeavor, but a communal one. Our blessings are there because of the communities to which we belong, so we are obligated to give back to them.
Ramadan, like Independence Day, is a time for us to recommit to a process of bettering ourselves and our communities. They are not ends by themselves.
Day 1 - Tuesday, July 9, 2013
The first night of Ramadan seems like a welcome relief, after the anticipation of its arrival. There’s almost a celebratory sense for me. Then the first day of fasting hits. No matter how hard I prepare, the first day always seems selfish. Knowing that there are millions of people beginning the fast with me does not make it any more communal. It’s lonely. I am conscious of myself and my body. My nafs (my lower self; ego) has been in charge too long. In the consciousness of my physical desires, I’m also aware of the differences between needs and wants. But for an act that is meant to be about community, that is supposed to make me aware of the needs of others, the first day is all about me. And maybe that’s part of the process. Looking at one’s self in the mirror, with the eyes of another. It’s the only way we can see our own faults. It is also a relief to be in control of the view, instead of always being doubly-conscious of how others may perceive me because of my race and/or religion. But, in my own “other” eyes, the perspective is often less than flattering.
Day 2 - Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Caffeine headache. Tried to ween myself down, but always happens. It amazes me what I think I am in control of and what is actually in control of me. It’s still about me, but now it’s me in the world.
Day 3 - Thursday, July 11, 2013
I am an Ismaili Shi’ah Muslim. That means my community of Muslims has a present, living Imam, in the figure of the Aga Khan. This day is one that we commemorate for his ascension to the position of the Imam. It’s a time of celebration for the community. In thinking about the role of the Imamate in my life, I think of the tension between God’s transcendence (24:35) and immanence (50:16), and that the Imam’s presence helps navigate that tension. In loving the Prophet (PBUH) and his family, we practice the higher love of God, and understand how to love the people of our community. In this celebration during the month of Ramadan, I am pulled from self to community, and also into thinking about the role of God in my life and the blessing bestowed upon me.
Day 4 - Friday, July 12, 2013
Couldn’t fast today. Had to get some vaccine shots, and needed to eat to avoid some side effects. Even this early on, I missed it. It seemed unnatural to eat. New habits formed in less than a month. I still kept away from the tea, but the water was sweet.
Day 5 - Saturday, July 13, 2013
I tried to spend most of the day being a fully-functional human being in NYC’s oppressive summer heat. I stayed indoors and tried to catch up on work. Nice air-conditioned space. I was trying to control my body and desires again. It is a successful first full day of not being conscious of food and drink. Then, as I’m eating, I hear about the Trayvon Martin verdict. I lose whatever calm I’m starting to become acclimated to. As I read the 6th juz’ of the Qur’an I come across this verse “[N]ever let hatred of anyone lead you into the sin of deviating from justice” (5:8). It seemed so timely. Racism pollutes our criminal system, and what is legal is not the definition of ethical or right or even justice. And once more, I think about how we have not fulfilled the dream. And that we are in a process to make ourselves and our community better. The verdict is a reminder of how far we have to go. The verse from the Qur’an reminds me that I am not alone.
Day 6 - Sunday, July 14, 2013
Several months ago I was invited to The Middle Collegiate Church to give a talk with Rev. Doug Leonard of the Al-Amana Center in Muscat, Oman on the devotional arts in Christianity and Islam. The sermon was about Trayvon. It was an important moment of healing. After the discussion between Rev. Leonard and myself, we had a great observation from Rev. Adrienne Thorne, who delivered the sermon. She talked about the physicality of Muslim worship forcing her to think about her own practice. It opened a discussion as to how we learn from each other and appreciate what we have when we see it in other people’s experiences. When we are a step removed, we can think, and then think about about what our rituals and prayers mean to us. It was an attempt to heal and build.
Day 7 - Monday, July 15, 2013
The sense of calm and normalcy I was striving for two days ago was coming back. But there was still a sense of deep injustice in light of the Trayvon verdict. The ongoing conflict in Syria. The chaos in Egypt. Guantanamo. California Prisoner Hunger Strike. The selfishness that began the week was receding. The awareness of the damage in the world is nearly overwhelming. Ultimately, it becomes about working to make something better, where I can actually affect change.
The Time of Ramadan by Fez Meghani
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
Hussein Rashid is an academic and activist. He received his PhD from Harvard University, and his broad research project involves the representation and self-representation of Muslims in America. He has published on Islamicate musics in America, and has delivered talks on the Muslim-American blogistan and Muslims in graphic novels. He has taught at Hofstra University, Fordham University, Harvard University, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, and Virginia Theological Seminary. He works in New York’s interfaith communities, teaching at Quest: A Center for Spiritual Inquiry. He has appeared on CNN, NPR, Fox News, CBS Evening News, and Russia Today. He is an Associate Editor at Religion Dispatches, and blogs at islamicate. He is known for his teaching, research, public communication skills, media engagement, and use of Web 2.0 technologies. You can find out more about him at http://www.husseinrashid.com/ Recently, he turned his consultancy into an L3C. islamicate L3C specializes in improving conversations around religion generally, and Islam specifically. We work in education, media, and policy.