[This article is written By Adam Yosef]
Adam Yosef explains the principles behind the 30 day period of enlightenment and reflection for Muslims during Ramadan.
‘Disciplining the body in order to discipline the mind and purify the heart.’
Such instruction may seem the spiritual fodder of an ancient far-eastern ideology or maybe even the tenets of modern-day Buddhist Zen or the Hindu Yoga. You may even be forgiven for assuming it’s about to be followed by a narrative on the ‘wax on, wax off’ discipline.
Principles of Ramadan
It is in fact, as far removed as it may seem, the basic principle behind the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The ninth month of the Islamic year, it is a thorough 30-day period of enlightenment and self-reflection for the 1.8 billion or so Muslims who inhabit the planet.
As Lent may be prescribed for Christians and Yom Kippur for those of the Jewish faith, Ramadan is an eagerly awaited interval for Muslims to utilise the absence of food, drink and other luxuries, as an opportunity to concentrate on prayer, meditation and worship. This in turn encourages greater reflection on life itself and appreciation for the resources we sometimes take for granted.
A retreat for the mind
In many ways, Ramadan mirrors a form of spiritual renewal – a time for new resolutions and a revival of inner peace. Similar to how one might attend a nature retreat once a year to escape the humdrum of a dog-eat-dog world, Ramadan provides an internal retreat where the mind and it’s natural ‘thirst’ for knowledge, awakening and reason is given greater precedence over the physical needs and desires of the body – needs which are regularly served but rarely satisfied.
Human desire in its bare essence is animalistic and somewhat selfish. It has been the evolution of teachings of faith that has kept in check much of our primitive needs for constant self-gratification.
In the same way as teachings throughout the ages have developed our instinct to share, put others before ourselves and refrain from complete hedonism, Ramadan and disciplines of restraint from sister religions still continue to remind us to control our hunger for domination, greed, lust, deception and of harbouring a ‘survival of the fittest’ attitude.
This is especially poignant as we enter an age where respect for the environment, our bodies, the rights of others and family values continue to disintegrate. In a world of excess, Ramadan is welcomed with open arms by many who wish to evaluate and change their monotonous and unfulfilling daily routine.
Consisting of a fast between daylight hours, special evening prayers and an emphasis on universal rights of respect and responsibility – all for a whole month – Ramadan is far from a selfish experience.
Themes of unity, brotherhood and sisterhood feature deeply in all of the elements of a daily fast from the shared meals, the moral support, and the mutual prayers. Muslims observing the fast at home, work, school or college are brought together in a spiritual struggle to cleanse their souls and better themselves.
Of course, environments where a Muslim may be fasting on their own invite ample opportunity for those of other faiths and none to participate or show solidarity. After all, the benefits of Ramadan are not only there for Muslims to take advantage of but for non-Muslims too, who can hope to see a dramatic change in the demeanour of any Muslim they might know.
This should be a change that should in essence aim to become a permanent and positive contribution to the personality of the one participating in the fast. It should never just be a one-month deal but a personal ‘revelation’ which lasts a lifetime.
Ramadan in Birmingham
In Birmingham, the beginning of Ramadan won’t be heralded by a display of fireworks or a parade of any sort, but most citizens will realise the month has arrived.
In streets, the kitchen lights will switch on before dawn in many Muslim households as the early suhoor meal is prepared and eaten to provide sustenance during a gruelling food-free day. In shops, the sales of dates and honey will rise as Muslims take to the super foods of the Sunnah (tradition of the Prophet Muhammad).
In schools where the majority of students are Muslim, canteens will be quiet during lunch hour except for the brief period in which pre-arranged packed lunches are taken home by fasting pupils for later consumption. On roads, parked cars will be spilling over as the faithful make a heartier effort to attend prayers.
Breaking the fast
And just before the muezzin bellows out the sunset adhan (call to prayer) from the minaret of Birmingham Central Mosque in Highgate or Green Lane Masjid in Small Heath, the smells of exotic and local dishes will float around streets and houses as families prepare to break fast for the day with the meal known as the Iftar.
As in Birmingham, Muslims across the country – from London to Manchester and Aberdeen to Dover – will fast the same thirty days and share the same commitment to God in their grand affair with something so spiritual and enlightening.
This quest of nearly two billion people to find inner peace will simultaneously be echoed around the globe and across nations by people of all colours and social and cultural backgrounds.
In our current international political climate, it’s extremely important to use our similarities as a force for good and in Ramadan are themes consistent with many world faith and belief systems.
So Ramadan is a time in the year when people of all faiths can reflect and share values which are evident in their own beliefs and implement ideals that are universally accepted as progressive, positive and peaceful.