Ramadan Mubarak dearest family and friends! May this month’s blessings provide spiritual openings and peace to you and yours and all of humanity Inshallah. I remember at one time, I would dread the onset of Ramadan, as the fasts seemed too hard to keep. I would even skip them when the grandkids were over just to have enough energy. But as I have developed spiritually, I am learning to welcome fasting as a challenge and an opportunity, and am so excited for the challenge starting this Monday May 6. Fortunately, I have tried intermittent fasting for my health for the last month or so, which has also prepared me for Ramadan. Of course, my nutritionist cautioned me that fasting with no water or food for 16 hours may not be good for my thyroid issues, but I said I would see how I fare. There are provisions for people who are sick or traveling or pregnant not to fast in our faith, and in return they should be providing a meal to a needy person for every fast they missed, and indeed there are some more detailed rules that prescribe how much, etc.
As our communities get more organized, it is wonderful to feel the support during Ramadan, as it is a big change in schedule- eating before sunrise, and having no food or drink until sunset, and then doing optional prayers (Tarawih) after the night prayer (Isha). I enjoy sharing the fast breaking with my Sufi friends at Jerrahi dergah (gathering place) and staying for the optional night prayers- the feeling that 1 Billion plus Muslims are practicing this around the world at the same time is overpowering. It is also sobering to remind ourselves how many are hungry not by choice, and do our best to change our systems and institutions to remove hunger from society.
At the Jerrahi Friday sermon, Nuruddin Baba talked about the many benefits of Ramadan, such as a lighter belly makes for more agile thinking; more compassionate heart; more thinking about justice for the needy and oppressed; more generosity, appreciation and overall gratitude for the bounties we enjoy and certainly conquering our proud and arrogant egos. And that is why in all faiths, there are periods of fasting such as Lent for Christians, Passover for Jews, etc. All faiths agree on the principle that abstaining from the material cleanses our hearts and brings our souls closer to our Creator.
Of course, this year with the attacks on Muslims on the rise, we all worry about negative incidents especially with the coming and going at odd hours. One of my other intentions in Ramadan is to focus on understanding “hate”. I want to understand the root causes of it, and also pray for the hardened hearts who practice hate and violence to heal from their anger and hurt. We should all practice healing by reaching out across boundaries during Ramadan. For example, I have invited the Interfaith Women’s Initiative to join us at Jerrahi for the fast-breaking ritual.
As Sheikh Hamza Yusuf’s- co-founder of Zaytuna College (one of my favorite institutions) – said in his Ramadan Letter- “During Ramadan, we are pulled away from the vanity fair of this world- the frivolity, the idle entertainment, the addiction to ostentation- which wears thin over time. This blessed month is analogous to our lives: it begins, has a middle, and comes to an end. The first third represents our youth and according to the hadith, a period of mercy. Just as our youth was filled with the mercy of our parents, teachers and others who nurtured us so we could thrive, Ramadan brings the renewal of spiritual youth in its first ten days. The second ten days represents our productive years of effort and struggle in the world, whereby we accrue our transgressions and learn from our mistakes; this middle in Ramadan is one of forgiveness. Finally, the last ten days represent the last third of our lives and that period, as the hadith says, appropriately frees us from the Fire.” The Fire to me can be hell that we create ourselves right here on Planet Earth, as much as it is a place/time in the future. So, let us soften our hearts and cleanse our souls so as to make life beautiful and spread love, compassion, dignity and respect for all, Amen.