NEWS COMMENTARY LOOKS AT THE SIGNIFICANCE OF RAMADAN AND WHY MUSLIMS SHOULD OBSERVE IT IN IT’S TRUE MEANING.
Muslims believe that fasting in the month of Ramadan develops in them the real spirit of social belonging, of unity and brotherhood, and of equality before God.
This spirit is the natural product of the fact that when people fast, they feel that they are joining the whole Muslim society which makes up more than one fifth of the world’s population in observing the same duty, in the same manner, at the same time, for the same motives, and for the same end.
“What is fasting?” “How does the fasting of Muslims in Ramadan differ from the fasting of other faiths?” “Why should one ‘torture’ one’s body in the first place?” “What do you really gain from fasting in the end?”. It is important to note that Fasting in Arabic is called, “Sawm”, which literally means ‘to be at rest’. Fasting in the month of Ramadan is one of the Five Pillars upon which Islam is built. During this month, every able-bodied Muslim, is required to fast, every day from dawn until dusk In Islam, it is believed that Fasting is an institution for the improvement of moral and spiritual character of human beings. The purpose of the fast is to help develop self-restraint, self-purification, God-consciousness, compassion, the spirit of caring and sharing, the love of humanity and the love of God.
Fasting is a universal custom and is advocated by all the religions of the world, with more restrictions in some than in others. The Islamic Fast, as opposed to mere starvation or self-denial, is an act of worship and obedience to God, thanksgiving, forgiveness, spiritual training, and self-examination. Ramadan gives Muslims a break and provides them with a rare opportunity to think about themselves, their future, and their families. It is a time to give themselves a mental break and to temporarily forget about the hundreds of worries and stresses they are constantly bombarded with. In hectic times, such as ours, and in places like the West, this valuable time to think about their lives, on individual basis, is a luxury and is desperately needed! It is a unique month of self-analysis, and of taking stock of one’s moral and spiritual ‘assets and liabilities’.
Fasting inculcates in Muslims patience, unselfishness, and gratitude. When they fast, they feel the pains of deprivation and hunger, and learn how to endure it patiently. The meaning of this powerful experience in a social and humanitarian context is that we are much quicker than anybody else in sympathising with the oppressed and needy around the world, and responding to their needs. “It is the month to visit the poor, the sick, and the needy to share their sorrows. It is the month where the food, sustenance and the earnings of a believing Muslim increases and they are blessed,” says the Prophet of Mohammed, (peace be upon him). It is only during such a trying time as Ramadan that we can reflect on the condition of those in this world who may not be as fortunate as us. Fasting in Ramadan enables Muslims to master the art of mature adaptability and Time-Management. We can easily understand this point when we realise that fasting makes people change the entire course of their daily life. When they make the change, they naturally adapt themselves to a new system and schedule, and move along to satisfy the rules.
This, in the long run, develops in them a wise sense of adaptability and self-created power to overcome the unpredictable hardships of life! A person who values constructive adaptability, time-management, and courage will appreciate the effects of Fasting in this respect as well. It cultivates in Muslims the principle of sincere Love, because when they observe Fasting, they do it out of deep love for God. And a person, who loves God, is truly a person who knows what love is and why everyone on this Earth should be loved and treated justly, for the sake of God. The month of Ramadan provides us with a sort of “Boot camp.” It is a month of intense moral training. Since we know that Fasting is a special duty prescribed by God, we learn that any sins may negates that purpose, so we go through great lengths making sure we are on our best behavior. Many people who experience fasting in this month, feel the impact that this intense training has on their habits, and realize the power of this transformative tool designed to make us better human beings- the ultimate goal of any spiritual exercise.
The entire Ramadan atmosphere provides the driving force for this positive change. Ramadan makes us realize the reality of life and death. Fasting makes us realize how dependent our lives are on things that we often take for granted, such as food and water. It makes us think about our dependence on God and God’s mercy and justice. Moreover, it reminds us of the life after death, which itself has a great impact on our character and our world-view. After the month of Ramadan is over, Muslims celebrate one of the two most important holidays in the Islamic year: EID-UL-FITR, or the Festival of the Fast Breaking. It is a day to thank God for the blessing and training that He provides us with throughout the month of Ramadan. EID-UL-FITR is marked by praying in a huge congregation at an Islamic centre or mosque, and by giving a small donation to the poor in the community. The adults give the donation on behalf of their children as well. Dinner parties, family outings, fairs, carnivals, and great joyous celebrations follow the prayer and charity. Ghanaian Muslims in particular, should let the real meaning and purpose of the dynamic institution of Fasting, which is self-discipline and good moral behaviour, reflect in their lives after the month of Ramadan. It is time for Muslims throughout the world to reverse the negative narratives and stereotypes in the media, not just through word of mouth, but through their deeds.
By Abdul Hayi Moomen, (Journalist, Gbc)