Wednesday, 10 July 2013

The Absurdity of Ramadan: You Know You're Crazy, Right?


One afternoon last July, my boss was fanning herself by the air conditioning, sipping some ice cold water to escape the sweltering Bolognese heat. She saw me perspiring and kindly offered me some water but, to her surprise, I declined. She gasped suddenly and retracted the bottle as quickly as her reflexes would allow. I could see Ramadan alarm bells going off as she remembered that I wouldn't be drinking until around 9pm that evening. She paused and squinted at me a little. Finally she said, ‘forgive me, but you’re crazy to do this!’ I chuckled, and replied in all honesty, ‘Well, yes, I suppose it is’ 

In that moment, I didn't try to defend Ramadan by saying that it’s not crazy. In all honesty, I can’t argue that it isn't. If fasting were a normal everyday occurrence, it would lose its whole purpose. One of the key features of Ramadan is the fact that you’re going against your natural urges to eat and drink. In the situation with my boss, the only logical human response would have been to drink water.  But I didn’t. Why? 

I hope that my explanation will also answer the questions that I asked myself as a teenager. I couldn't get my head around fasting in Islam when I was growing up. I couldn't understand why God (SWT) would want you to fast. As I couldn’t see a benefit in it for God, I just thought Muslims were punishing themselves, suffering for their faith like some kind of fasting flagellation. It baffled me. 

So, why do Muslims fast? 

One of the main purposes of Ramadan is to foster good habits such as being calm, patient and controlled in spite of the physical challenge of being without food and drink. Normally, if you’re peckish, you just grab something to eat or if you’re thirsty, you just turn on the tap. Ramadan however, is about learning to be patient. Although we learn this as we grow up, whether through waiting for dinner or to open birthday presents, its still something that many of us struggle with on a daily basis and needs to be worked on. 


Christian minister Steve Simms touches upon the same topic in his interesting article: Entitlement vs Ethics, Cravings or Conscience, Passions or Principles. His role as a Salvation Army minister brings me onto the topic of my upbringing. I was raised in the Salvation Army and when I was around seven years old I made a promise which included the phrase:




This phrase is always at the back of my mind but it pops up more regularly during Ramadan, a time when Muslims aim to refrain from swearing, saying mean things to (and about) people and from questionable activities. In addition, Ramadan is the month when Muslims believe the Qur'an (the principle religious text in Islam) was first revealed and consequently, many Muslims endeavour to read it in its entirety during the Holy Month. 

If the challenge were simply to go without food, it wouldn't make any sense. Instead, Ramadan is considered a God given opportunity to transform ourselves into better people. A month is a long time, certainly long enough to establish changes as habits which you can then strive to maintain throughout the rest of the year. This is one reason why the month of Ramadan is considered a blessing, even if you do have to contend with bad breath and occasional headaches. It's also why Muslims get so excited about the arrival of Ramadan and miss it sorely when it’s gone. The Month of Ramadan is a happy occasion, one which celebrates the revelation of the Qur'an to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). 



'Oh ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was to those before you, 
that you may (learn) self-restraint' (The Holy Qu'ran 2:183)


After reflecting on my boss’s use of the word ‘crazy’ to describe Ramadan, I was reminded of the way we so often call Olympic athletes ‘crazy’ even though we admire them for what they do. Athletes, whether they’re runners, rowers or gymnasts, are respected for being able to achieve something out of the ordinary. And even though I do it myself, it still amazes me that nearly a billion Muslims perform this feat every year, often in sweltering heat, while the rest of the world looks on in either bewilderment, curiosity or admiration or a mixture of all three. 

Now, imagine if you will, the same Olympic rowers in the previous illustration waking up at the crack of dawn to go to practice down by the river. They don’t do it merely for the sake of getting up but rather, they’re doing it with a specific goal in mind – to become better athletes. In the same way, Muslims take on this 'crazy' month-long act with the aim of improving themselves one day at a time. 

★  ★  ★

So, over to you!


For your own individual perspective, how do you view Ramadan? 
If you do take part in Ramadan, is it something you look forward to or worry about?



Link of the Day 


Ramadan is a daunting challenge for new Muslims. In this interview, Melissa shares her hopes, fears and expectations for her first Ramadan. 

A new Muslim shares her hopes & fears about her first Ramadan




17 comments:

  1. Ramadan Mubarak! This is my 3rd Ramadan. None of the previous ones weren't very hard on physical level, except of the headache due to lack of coffein, but I've learned from this experience and I reduce my coffee to zero few days beforehand. I think more difficult is spiritual aspect of fasting, and concentration on performing good deeds, avoiding bad thoughts, behaviours, words etc. This is the real meaning of Ramadan and it is something that we have to work hard every day and night of Ramadan. May this Ramadan brings you peace and serenity and may Allah accept your fast, your dua and forgive us our sins.

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    1. Ramadan Mubarak to you too! I learned too that it was caffeine withdrawal that was giving me problems and making me feel super sleepy - so I did the same as you and cut coffee out of my life a few days before. InshAllah I can be more mindful of the spiritual side of Ramadan now that I'm more used to the physical side. May your fasts be accepted, take care, Sarita

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  2. There can't be many people from the UK who have made that transition from The Salvation Army to Islam... :-)

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    1. I'll have to find them if others exist. Actually, I do happen to know one lady from my old corps who converted to Islam about 10 years ago. So there's a grand total of two so far.

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  3. i want to be an ESL teacher as well! :)

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    1. If you ever need any help or advice, just let me know and I'll do my best to help. I love my job so I enjoy talking about it : )

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  4. Ramadan Mubarak Sister, great article. A nice little reminder of why we're cookoo for blessings (not cocoa puffs)

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    1. Thank you! Although your mention of cocoa pops has given me a craving haha!

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  5. Ramadan Mubarak! Great article and I liked how you tackled that stereotype! I hear it every time I tell people we are celebrating Ramadan at home. "WHAT NO WATER?!! That can't be healthy!" People forget that fasting is found in every single religion and there other other practices out there as well that don't consume water (Russian orthodox I just learned today but need to learn more about it!). Fasting is not unhealthy! This is my 8th Ramadan as a non-Muslim married to a Muslim. Every year I notice my practice of Ramadan has deepened. The first 1-2 years it was about learning to cook the food. The next few years was learning more about the practice. Then it became about how to make it fun for my kids, growing up as Muslims in the West, and this is the first year I have approached it from the spirituality side (and working on improving a few things within myself), even though I do not fast longer than a couple days each year. I love Ramadan and wish everyone could see the beauty in it vs. being so quick to judge it through a negative lens.

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  6. What a great post!! Thank you for sharing. I now have a much better understanding of it.

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    1. Thank you, I'm glad it helped. I hopped over to your blog and I loved the post about Cinderella in the Islamic tradition. I'd never heard of it before. It sounds like a wonderful book - I remember you mentioning it before when we were speaking about Disney Princesses. Thank you very much for including this post - it was a lovely surprise!

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  7. I followed the blog from MKB facebook page and found it very interesting and educational. I think fasting practices like these help bring more mindfulness and more enjoyment of something that we usually take for granted. We recently listened to Islam origins in The Story of the World, and I thought it was treated very fairly by the author. Fasting was explained there for young children not only as a self-restraint practice, but also as a way for richer people to understand how hunger and thirst feel like and therefore to be more willing to share their wealth. Do you think there is some truth in this as well?

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    1. Yes, I agree with that thought. Charity is very important during Ramadan, not only because Muslims believe there is more reward for good deeds during Ramadan, but also because you gain an increased awareness that most of us are incredibly privileged to have access to clean running water and food in the fridge. I'd be interested in reading that book.

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  8. I really enjoyed this post (also got here from MKB page). I grew up in a Jewish home and we only fast one day a year for 24 hours, which was... oy veh... not easy. So, Ramadan has always astounded me. I married a Bahai, and they have a Ramadan-like fast, so I've come to see it as a intensely spiritual time and something of a gift really. Ramadan Mubarak! (I learned that here too!: ) )

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    1. I don't know a lot about the Bahai faith although I remember reading about the main beliefs and nodding along with many of the principles - especially the unity of humanity. I learned this month that there are also several Jewish fast days which are 26 hours and even though I fast for around 19 hours, I find that incredible. Thank you for your Ramadan wishes. Have a lovely week!

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