The True Spirit of Ramadan: Beyond Hunger and ThirstHe told me that his calendar was full for the month of Ramadan as he was unable to join us for an iftar with the poor and the needy of the area. We thought, we would have Ramadan differently this year. We thought we would invite some needy Muslim families at our home and share with them the meal that we eat regularly. We wanted to invite the big sheikh, the scholar, the knowledgeable, and the one who is our teacher. But he had already booked him for the entire month to visit people’s home so that he could bless them and the food.
Every year in the month of Ramadan, especially among a majority of Muslim Americans, Ramadan iftar parties have become an attractive event. With 10 different types of snacks and 15 different categories of main entrees, the parties offer a spectacle of affluence, extravagance and luxury. Why should it not be like this? After all, we are told by our scholars that if you help a Muslim break his fast, you get huge reward from Allah. So, all these parties and functions are for Allah as commanded by His prophet. Our reward increases with the presence of a Sheikh and probably with the increase in the number of dishes. The older and seasoned the sheikh, the more profound is the reward, and the better is the quality, the quicker is the mercy.
But wait a minute? Most, I mean all, of the people who come to these parties are people who are well off, affluent and can easily afford to offer meals to others. Didn’t the Prophet advice us to focus on those who are less affluent and less fortunate? Didn’t Allah want the resourceful people to share their fortune with other less resourceful? Probably, Allah and His messenger might have meant that. But when we invite ordinary people who are not of our status and our class, we usually compromise our positions in the community. How can we, the affluent and less affluent be equal? We worked hard to earn what we have. We are entitled to enjoy the way we want to enjoy. Moreover, they are not aware of the etiquettes to behave in the company of the affluent.
This is how Ramadan is celebrated in a majority of Muslim homes who have been endowed with resources. In our Masajid, depending on their size, the situation is different. Huge expenses are incurred by individuals and the management for iftar and meals. Many people justify these expenses saying that Ramadan creates the spirit of brother and sisterhood and bring the entire community together. True! People feel rejuvenated and feel the spirit of the month by coming to Masajid in large numbers, yet the resources that are spent could probably be used better. What if masajid offer simple milk, water and dates for iftar and individual families bring extra food to share with those who are unable to afford it? It would require some organization and some serious efforts on the part of the management and families, but it would definitely create stronger solidarity. Rather than throwing lavish food parties at the masajid, if we follow simplicity and offer nutritious food supervised by nutrition experts, probably, we would utilize our resources better.
We do not have to wait for the entire ummah to have consensus on these issues. Those who feel that such practices are genuine should follow them.
Let us look at the positive aspects of the month of Ramadan. For an entire month, we live in an environment where we are conscious of our creator every second regardless where we are provided we are fasting or aware of the important of fasting. It is a month we can train ourselves in some of our behavioral aspects.
Some of our scholars remind us that we should focus on offering extra prayers and extra reading of the Quran. But there are two other aspects that were part of Prophet’s behavior, yet ignored sometimes.
The prophet was very generous in this month and he spent long hours seeking the protection and forgiveness of Allah. Obviously, the Prophet taught us that the month should be used to evaluate our own behavior and attitude towards ourselves and others and seek protection in the guidance of Allah. In other words besides being generous, he taught us to ensure that we control our anger, egos, arrogance, and show humility, politeness, kindness and forgiveness to others.
The fasting demonstrates our ability not only to conquer hunger but also our capacity to control psychological aspects of our behavior, such as our reaction to things that we dislike. If we learned how to tame our ego, everything that we do will multiply in reward in our life and if we fail, then regardless of the number of nightly prayers and extra reading of the Quran, our fasting would not go beyond an exercise in controlling our hunger.
Here are a few suggestions that we can try to apply in our daily Ramadan life.
1. If we dislike any thing, we would not react immediately. Rather, we would take time and try to respond in a calm and polite manner.
2. We would ignore those useless talks that serve no purpose.
3. We would ensure that we do not indulge in backbiting or demeaning anyone.
4. We would ensure that we show kindness to youngsters and respect to elders.
5. We would not focus on food and consume things that are not nutritious because Allah asks to be mindful of our health also.
6. We will control our anger, egos, arrogance and rash talking.
7. We would not hurt anyone and if we cross our limits we would immediately apologize.
8. We would maintain quietness most of the time.
9. We would greet everyone with a sweet smile.
10. We would visit mosque with our family at least once a week if possible.
11. We would give our children a feel of taraweeh prayers by praying with them this nightly prayer.
12. We would invite the poorer and the needy families to our homes at least once in the month of Ramadan to honor them.
13. We would be generous in sharing our resources to the poor and the neglected.
14. We would try to read the Quran with translation and understanding if we do not know Arabic and with reflections if we know Arabic.
15. We would spend sometime alone to observe prayers and recite the Quran and reflect on our life.
16. We would focus on some of the suras of the Quran so that we could either memorize them or understand them in depth.
17. We would invite some non-Muslim neighbors or colleagues to our homes to share the Ramadan spirit at Iftar time.
18. We would give the Zakat ul Fitr so that the money could be distributed in an organized manner to the poor and the needy.
19. We would ensure that not a single prayer is delayed.
20. We would give one book on Islam to anyone who wants to learn more about Islam.
21. We would hug our children, our parents and our nearest ones to thank them for their presence in our lives and to remind ourselves of the importance of family.
22. We would ignore the minor or major behavioral issues of people and treat them with patience.
23. We would ensure that we would not visit internet sites that are provocative or that promote immorality.
24. We would help our spouses in home chores and avoid criticizing them for their mistakes.
25. We would always remember that all that we are doing is to fulfill our obligations to our Creator who seeks our wellbeing in this life and the life hereafter.