By Sharmin Ahmad
Minaret of Freedom Institute Secretary
Ramadan is the embodiment of reflection, revelation, revolution, and restoration. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) began his journey into prophethood through reflection within. He was searching for a broader meaning in life that would restore justice and peace in society. He was looking for an answer that would transcend the need for survival for materialism alone, and transform humanity into it's desired, spiritually imbibed wholesome state. He reflected and meditated. He pondered and wondered in silence for many years in the sanctuary of a remote cave, surrounded by the steep, barren, mountains situated in the outskirts of the Mecca city. Finally he received the answers in the form of divine revelations. In the ninth month of the Arabic calendar, known as Ramadan. The very first word of the revelation was Iqra' or read and the entire revelations known as the Quran began each chapter by invoking, "The most merciful", and "The most compassionate" attributes of God. Ramadan opened the door to the illuminated message that prophet Muhammad would continue to receive for the next twenty-three years of his life. The ignorant and barbaric Arab society, in which, it was custom among some tribes to bury female children alive, by then was transformed. The revelations brought forth the revolution of the heart in which blossomed the fragrant flowers of mercy and compassion-the essential building blocks for a just and civilized society. The very first message Iqra inspired the ignorant nation to glean knowledge from all aspects of life, and then inspired them to share it with others, irrespective of creed, color, or sex for the common good of humanity. The seed of this remarkable transformation of a nation was planted in the month of Ramadan fourteen hundred years ago. The Ramadan of the year 2003, the first day of which is marked by the birth of a new moon-the feminine yin energy of the cosmos offers the same guidelines and symbolizes the same ideas as it did in the seventh century.
Muslims all over the world would celebrate Ramadan which is also one of the five pillars of Islam by refraining from food, water, and conjugal relationship from dawn to dusk (sick, elderly, pregnant women, and travelers are not required to fast). Generally Muslims would break their fasts with dates, following the tradition of prophet Muhammad, followed by dinner. People would cook dinner according to their own cultural tradition. For example my Egyptian Arab husband Amr would prefer chicken soup, bread, and bamia (okra cooked with lamb, tomato, and garlic) which are non-spicy Mediterranean style dishes, where as my south Asian Bengali upbringing would prefer spicy dishes, such as fried lentil fritters( lentil puree mixed with chili pepper, minced cilantro, onion) or red hot curry. Over the years we learned to compromise on our cultural expectations in order to make our Ramadan dinner joyful. And guess what? My husband began to enjoy spicy dishes, and I love the soup. Ramadan is also a time for family union and extended celebration with friends and neighbors lasting for a month. Extra prayer, charity, recitation, and completion of the holy Qur’an are high lights of this month. Restraining one’s anger, refraining from gossip, backbiting, etc., are required self-developmental features manifested through the physical fasting.
In the United States Muslims encounter extra challenge during the fasting month. They keep their fast, and perform extra rituals, in the midst of a majority of non-fasting people and a non-observing environment. Yet it is this extra challenge that makes ones fasting more meaningful. It is in this challenge that one’s weary spirit is rejuvenated, and vision expanded to embrace humanity as one’s own. This month offers opportunity to Muslims to explain the meaning of Ramadan to his/her fellow non-Muslim friends, neighbors, and colleagues. Many mosques in the U.S.A would extend open invitation to non-Muslims to join their Muslim neighbors who would break fasts in the mosque and to experience the warmth of Muslim hospitality, and cultural diversity.
Ramadan offers to a true seeker a self-reflective course, illuminated by the eternal revelations, so that the revolution of the heart can take place for the restoration of justice, peace, and harmony in the world.