Today is the first day of Ramadan for the majority of Muslims around the world. Fasting the month of Ramadan constitutes one of the five pillars of Islam. During Ramadan, Muslims are encouraged to strengthen their spirituality by spending more time in prayer and contemplation. Ramadan is marked by the daily fast; Muslims are known to abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset. The other aspects of fasting, however, are often overlooked. This excerpt further demonstrates what fasting really means:
The Arabic word for “fasting” (sawm) literally means “to refrain” – and it means not only refraining from food and drink, but from evil actions, thoughts, and words.
During Ramadan, every part of the body must be restrained. The tongue must be restrained from backbiting and gossip. The eyes must restrain themselves from looking at unlawful things. The hand must not touch or take anything that does not belong to it. The ears must refrain from listening to idle talk or obscene words. The feet must refrain from going to sinful places. In such a way, every part of the body observes the fast.
Therefore, fasting is not merely physical, but is rather the total commitment of the person’s body and soul to the spirit of the fast. Ramadan is a time to practice self-restraint; a time to cleanse the body and soul from impurities and re-focus one’s self on the worship of God.
In reality though, Muslims have drifted far from the meaning of fasting. Although people generally donate more money and food to the needy, they seems to indulge themselves more with food and drink. From the moment the fast is broken at sunset, tables are laden heavy with dishes and jugs of juice. People are addicted to the many TV shows vying for their attention. Women prepare months ahead for gatherings after iftar/futour (the fast-breaking meal), mostly by shopping for the latest dresses whilst others find innovative cutlery and kitchenware. Everything in Ramadan has become a competition. It’s an exhausting month that has left behind its true essence. But I do remember a simpler Ramadan.
The happiest Ramadans were those spent with my family in Muscat, Oman. Most of the day was spent at school amongst my friends from every nationality and religion. Not everybody fasted, but we all shared Ramadan without the hostility that I sense from adults these days. After school, I spent some time listening to stories of the prophets on tape or reading a little bit of the Qur’an. We then gathered for a simple but delicious iftar and we were often allowed to watch our favorite TV shows while eating. A few times a week, we would visit family friends or meet them outdoors. Our gatherings did not revolve around copious amounts of food. They were genuine, laid back and uncomplicated. I miss the simpler Ramadans of my childhood.