The Spirit, rituals and politics of Ramadan
From the moment we are born to
the last rites of our life and every moment in-between we follow rituals,
though some may deny it. Whether we go to the gym, eat our food, go to sleep,
wear clothes, drive some place, in our intimate moments, going to the mall or
picking that phone up, every turn and every significant moment of the day is a
signify the mile stones of our daily life. Every turn and every significant
moment of the day is a ritual. It is an unwritten way of measuring our progression;
a memory pattern to bring discipline to our actions.
necessary to do things on time, managing personal relationships, driving to a
destination or keeping within budget to achieve the goals; the result is worth
the discipline to most people. When joyous, whether we are a theist or not, we
have to express that sentiment, otherwise a sense of incompleteness prevails.
The Spiritual masters have
captured the human gravity for rituals and have molded it with the art and
science of self-discipline in their respective religion. The noble purpose of
each one of them was to bring a balance in our lives and a balance with things
that surround us; life and environment.
The Spirit of Ramadan
Every faith is composed of a set
of unique rituals to bring discipline and peace to human life. Fasting is
one of the five key rituals that Muslims around the world observe.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the
Islamic lunar calendar and is generally observed with a ritual precision; it is
an annual training or a refresher. It requires one to abstain from food, drink,
intimate relations, ill will, ill talk, ill actions or any temptations from
dawn to dusk. One has rise above his or her baser desires. Islam gifts this
month to its followers to inculcate such a discipline to bring moderation in
their daily lives. Twenty five hundred years ago, Buddha, the enlightened one
taught that human suffering is caused by unrestrained desire to own and had
recommended a middle path.
Although Ramadan is popularly
known in the West for its culinary delicacies and fancy Iftaars (ceremonial
breaking of fast at sun down), the spirit and intent of Ramadan lies in a human
transformation in a month long inner spiritual journey of finding oneself in
tune with spirituality.
God has no need for the hunger or
thirst of someone who hurts others, violates their dignity or usurps their
rights, said Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The fasting of the stomach must be
matched by the fasting of the limbs. The eyes, ears, tongue, hands and feet all
have their respective fasts to undergo. The tongue's temptations, for example -
lies, backbiting, slander, vulgarity and senseless argumentation - must be
challenged and curbed to maintain the integrity of the fast.
The Rituals of Ramadan
It is celebration time when
Muslims around the world anxiously wait for the first moon of the ninth Lunar
month to appear on the sky. The families gather in their backyard, or get on
the nearest hillock or climb on the top of their house and wait for the pencil
thin moon on the horizon to appear. It is the same spirit and excitement to
watch the fire works on 4th of July and when the moon is sighted, it
is like the first day of Christmas, Diwali, Rosh Hashanah, Paryushan or the
Jashn, the festivities begin and with that the joyous month of self discipline
Rituals vary in different Muslim
cultures, where I am from, it is Chandni Raat, moonlit night festivities, and
it is an expression of joy of people coming together. It is almost like the
National night out or the last night shopping prior to Christmas.
For 30 days, with small
variations in practices, families rise up early around 4:00 AM. In my
tradition, the whole family gathers in the kitchen and participates in cooking
the meals and about 5 minutes before the cut-off time, everyone finishes his/her
food intake and takes the last sip of the water. Right after that is the
Morning Prayer congregation at home or Mosque, then we are free to do what
needs to be done.
Through out the day we abstain
from food, water and any thing that is detrimental to self-discipline. We pray
in the afternoon, late afternoon and then the whole family gathers in Mosque or
homes and waits for the sunset to break the fast. It is usually a communal
activity rather than an individual act.
When you break the fast it is a
healthy practice to eat the appetizer sized items in fruits, vegetable and
refreshments. Dates are the most popular item as it was the practice of Prophet
The breaking of fast, also Known
as “Iftaar” has become a community event, where Muslims invite their non-Muslim
friends to join in their celebration of that day. President Clinton started the
tradition of holding an Iftaar party carried forward by President Bush. It has
become a major social event for the politicians just as it is with Diwali, Rosh
Hashanah and other festivals.
At the end of 29th or
30th day, depending on the moon sighting, NASA or other tradition,
the fasting would come to an end with the celebration. It is a major
celebration where literally all Muslims gather in an open space and pray the
thanksgiving prayer for having a blessed Ramadan. It is a day one formally
forgives and gets forgiven and starts another year with good will. Every one
hugs three times; I am your friend, you are my friend and we are friends.
Though the annual ritual of
fasting takes 30 days its true destination is endless. May we always hunger to
discover our heart? May we always aspire to find our balance, connect with each
other, open our hearts and minds to fellow beings; the joy that comes with it
is ours to keep.
The politics of Ramadan
Since the beginning of Islam,
there have been debates as to what constitutes moon sighting. Some interpret
that there has got to be a minion to declare that they have seen it themselves
with their own eyes, where as others do not accept it unless they have seen it
themselves. In the
Politics run our community lives,
be it a temple, synagogue or church, Muslims are no different. A few
scientifically-inclined-Muslims have adopted NASA’s calculation, believed to be
precise. Today, four different traditions prevail concurrently; i) Strictly
Calendar, ii) NASA and iii) Sighting with bare eyes and iv) sighting by others
in the community.
The NASA oriented and the
Calendar group misses out the fun, joy and exhilaration of waiting and watching
the moon climbing anything above ground, including standing on some strong
shoulders. It is like the belief in Santa Claus, Angels and other myths, each
tradition fulfills one’s emotional needs and none is superior.
In the tradition of Prophet, let
every one celebrate the way their group feels, it is against the spirit of
Ramadan to denigrate, diminish and devalue other practices. The essence
of Ramadan is to become humble, simple and free from ill-will, anger, meanness
and hate. Let’s fill our hearts with goodwill and honor Ramadan by saying “Eid Mubarak” or Happy Eid to
every one who celebrates on a different day in the same town. The essence of Ramadan
is joy and let’s not prick any one’s bubble; God has not signed a pact with any
one behind others back, let’s rejoice the differences. If you want to
celebrate, go to every celebration.
In spirit of Ramadan, I pray
Ramadan gets into our hearts and minds and make us embrace all factions of
Muslims without undermining their tradition and further pray that we treat
every human on the earth with dignity, respect and care.
That is indeed the wisdom
expressed in Qur'an, Al-Hujurat, Surah 49:13:
"O mankind! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations
and tribes that ye may know one another. The noblest of you, in sight of Allah,
is the best in conduct. Allah Knows and is Aware."
This essay has evolved in content, essence and size over the last five years
and continues to add value to it. It is a compilation of several ideas;
similarities of thoughts are merely co-incidental. God willing it will be
become a comprehensive document on the Spirit and Rituals of Ramadan for Muslims
as well as Non-Muslims.
Ghouse is a Speaker, Thinker and a Writer.
He co-chairs the center for interfaith inquiry of the Memnosyne Foundation, president of the Foundation for Pluralism and is a frequent guest on talk radio and local television
network discussing interfaith, political and civic issues. He is the founding
president of World
Muslim Congress with
a simple theme: Good for Muslims and good for the world. His
comments, news analysis and columns can be found on the Websites and Blogs
listed at his personal website www.MikeGhouse.net. Mike is a
Dallasite for nearly three decades and
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