The month of Ramadan begins on Friday, July 20. Ramadan is a month greatly anticipated by Muslims around the world.
For 30 days, Muslims abstain from eating and drinking from dawn to sunset. Ramadan is a unique month that affects every aspect of social and spiritual life of Muslims. It is a month of devotion, intense spiritual introspection, social engagement, great benevolence and overwhelming generosity. A typical day in Ramadan begins with a pre-dawn meal, followed by the dawn prayer and a full day of fasting. The day ends with families, friends and neighbours gathering for a fast-breaking meal.
Following the meal, a nightly gathering takes place at the mosques where a special congregational prayer takes place every night during Ramadan. During the day, many spend their days reciting the holy book of Islam, the Qur'an. Ramadan ends with the celebration of Eid al-Fitr, one of the most important days of festivities in Islam.
Fasting in Ramadan isn't just a ritual, but a means to a greater purpose. As stated in the Qur'an, the aim of fasting is to "attain righteousness."
Fasting predates Islam and has a long history as a means of achieving spiritual efficacy. Fasting provides a unique opportunity to strengthen the willpower, to enhance endurance, to increase self-restraint and to control impulsive urges. Further, fasting opens the eyes to the struggles faced by the poor and invokes a sense of sympathy for their plight. Moreover, it creates a sense of appreciation for the good provisions of life, which many times are taken for granted and overlooked.
Al-Ghazzali (1058-1111 C.E.), the renowned theologian and mystic, in elaborating the spiritual dimensions of fasting, notes the simple abstention from food and drink is the simplest form of fasting. The real and substantive fasting is to go beyond the rituals and engage in self-restrain from evil thoughts, actions and impulses.
Ramadan brings out the best in humanity. During Ramadan, generosity peaks, people mend broken relationships, open their doors and reach out to others. Many find Ramadan an opportunity to rejuvenate themselves and to open a newer and more positive chapter in their life. Some find it an opportunity to free themselves from bad habits such as smoking, excessive consumption of coffee and other addictive behaviours.
The last 10 days of Ramadan are of great intensity. Some Muslims practise what is known as Itikaf for 10 days, during which they spend their time in the mosque engulfed in a full state of deep meditation, introspection and reflection that amounts to an all-encompassing spiritual journey.
Ramadan ends with an auspicious exercise of generosity. Every Muslim, including children, is required to give charity to the poor and the needy. The aim of this charity is to enable the poor to share in the celebrations and festivities that follow the end of Ramadan.
For those who truly experience Ramadan to its fullest extent, it is a transformative experience that enables people to rediscover the best within themselves. People come out of Ramadan physically shaped, spiritually nourished, socially engaged and mentally refreshed.
The challenge for Muslims isn't the fasting itself, but the ability to fully absorb the deeper spiritual underpinnings of Ramadan and to carry its noble sentiments of generosity, forgiveness, mindfulness and devotion throughout the year.
Across Canada, neighbours of mosques notice a major surge in mosque attendance and greater activity, particularly at night. Some mosques and Muslim student bodies at universities open their doors to members of other faiths and invite them to experience the noble sentiments of Ramadan. Fast-a-Thon has been organized for a number of years across universities, including the University of Manitoba, where students from other faith groups fast for a full day. Many who have gone through this experience have found it challenging but very refreshing.
Ismael Mukhtar is president of the Manitoba Islamic Association.