Tomorrow, Friday, April 24, we start our first fast for the month of Ramadan in the Year of the Coronavirus (CV- just like B.C. and A.D, we are going to think in terms of B.CV. and A.CV). Muslims throughout the world will be fasting from sunrise to sunset and abstain from food and even water. Many will be reading the Quran this month, and performing optional night prayers to deepen their meditations in this month. But this will be a Ramadan unlike any other we have lived through. As the Dean of Cambridge Muslim College Abdal Hakim Murad said, we have had 40 days of solitude due to Coronavirus Crisis before the beginning of Ramadan. And interestingly, 40 days carries a special significance in our spiritual tradition, and in many others. Spiritual seekers go for 40-day retreats called “chillas”. Chilla (Persian: چله, Arabic: أربعين, both literally “forty”) is a spiritual practice of penance and solitude in Sufism known mostly in Indian and Persian traditions. … The word chilla is derived from the Persian word chehel “forty”. The painting below by my sister Sabah Farooq (www.sabahfarooq.com) is of Maulana Rumi- then the founder of Sufism, and now the famous global poet for all ages and faiths, presumably meditating in a “chilla”.
Never before has all of humanity been forced into a collective solitude as we have been for the last 2 months or so. We had to abstain from many activities we took for granted already- meeting family and friends, socializing and entertainment, going to workplaces and hanging out with our teams and fellow workers and even going to our lovely parks or our wonderful gyms. And now we will be more prepared to abstain from food from dawn to sunset, as our muscle of denying ourselves (our egos) is stronger and we have deeper patience. Therefore, this Ramadan will be very special and will offer us an opportunity to fast with an acute mindfulness as we have completed a unique form of chillah already for 40 days!
Islamic teachings emphasize “sabr” (patience) and “shukr” (gratitude). The purpose of Ramadan is to deepen these values by abstaining from food in daylight hours and learning to appreciate, newly, every meal that we have. With that appreciation we also develop empathy for the poor and the oppressed of the world, who are suffering. Most Muslims give zakat – one of the five pillars of Islam- during this month. And certainly, we have deepened the values of patience, gratitude and empathy already in the Coronavirus Crisis. We have seen how these have led to enormous acts of kindness around the globe. This has formed in all of us a deeper gratitude for all that we have, and the way we express that gratitude is by being kinder and giving more of our time, energy, resources to those who are not as fortunate. We have all developed a deeper appreciation for all those who are on the frontlines and are risking their lives to save others. And with that appreciation, we are changed forever. I for one, will never go into a hospital or doctor’s or dentist’s office or restaurant or grocery store again without a sense of appreciation for our healthcare and essential workers.
I wish all my family and Muslim friends a reflective, peaceful and transformative Ramadan. May this Ramadan deepen our connection with our Creator and our awe with all of Creation. May our gratitude for our life deepen this month. May we learn to treasure each moment, each person in our life, each meal, each of the bounties we get to enjoy in this life. And may we pay it forward even more intensely to spread love in this life for all of humanity. Ameen.