For many Muslims worldwide, the 6th of June marks the first day of Ramadan, the observance of the fasting (from food, water and innate desires) between sunrise and sunset. Muslims will faithfully observe this third fundamental pillar of Islam as has been ordained by God. Yet apart from the physical sacrifices and discipline that Ramadan brings about, it also represents a spiritual space for remembering and reinforcing relationships.
Ultimately Ramadan represents the reinforcing of relationships.
We are invited to re-examine the relationship with ourselves. On the spiritual journey that we each undertake, the most difficult lessons is to understand our destination. For those of you who have read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, the understanding of this destination is very simple: ‘Go; travel the world, look for the truth and the secret of life – every road will lead you to this sense of initiation: the secret is hidden in the place from which you set out’. Thus you find God only by rediscovering the essence of your own nature. The essence of your own nature is the ‘return to oneself’.
This is the apparent paradox of spiritual experience whereby the constant effort that we make to purify, to control and liberate our hearts is in the end, reconciliation with the deepest level of our being. That spark that the Creator breathed into our heart (the fitra) is the spark of humility, the awareness of fragility, the consciousness of limitation, the shoulder of responsibility.
To develop this state is the very essence of Ramadan, something that is often missed in the superficial celebrations of this most blessed month. At the heart of our consumer society, where materialism and individualism drive our daily lives, this Blessed Month of Ramadan reinforces our personal effort and commitment, invites us towards the deep horizons of introspection and meaning, reminds us of silence, restraint and remembrance, and inculcates the importance of detail, precision, rigor and discipline of practice.
We are invited to re-examine our relationship with the Creator. Through acts of worship during the Blessed Month we take up a dialogue with The Most-High and The Most-Close, a dialogue of intimacy, of sincerity, of love. This re-examination allows us to realize that we marry the purpose of our existence with the purpose of our subsistence, whilst nurturing the inspiration from the Qur’an that ‘God will not change anything for the good if you change nothing’!
We are invited to re-examine our relationship with our community. Ramadan is a feast of the faith of fraternal atmosphere that is shared with all brothers and sisters. Unfortunately, over the last couple of years, the concept of a fraternal atmosphere has been denigrated to a single notion within the mindset of the Muslim community, who have gradually entrenched themselves into an ideological box. This ideological comfort zone is an intellectual arrogance leading to an isolationist mentality and cultural ghetto, which world over, Muslim communities; especially those that live under minority situations, place themselves in. This isolationist mentality invites an ‘us’ vs ‘them’ attitude and has meant that the Muslim community has always been worried about ‘us’ rather than taking an all encompassing ‘we’.
We are invited to re-examine our relationship with our society. Ramadan teaches us that we share the burdens of others (especially those less fortunate than us) and we remember our responsibilities towards them. Identifying with others in different ways is important in our role of living in society as founded upon a universal humanitarian principle based on the following verse from the Holy Qur’an “…If anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind…” (Q5:32).
So a world which makes sense, is a world in which we connect with other people, often beyond our immediate communities and experience, and show them compassion and love. This is the ultimate aspect of the relationship building as inculcated by Ramadan.