Sometimes, we all need a detox. Our fast paced, plugged-in culture can leave us frazzled and out of synch with nature, personal relationships, and our inner selves. For the more than 1.5 billion adherents of Islam, a month long detox, both physical and spiritual, is an annual occurrence: Ramadan.
Ramadan, the ninth month of the lunar Islamic calendar, is the holy month in which the prophet Muhammad received his first revelations. The revelations compose the central religious text of Islam, the Quran. As a crucial moment in Islamic history, Ramadan is celebrated with a month long fast from dawn to dusk, a duty that is one of the five pillars of Islam.
The fast of Ramadan is two pronged: Muslims abstain from food, drink, alcohol, drugs and sex to suspend their indulgence in worldly comforts. Adherents also refrain from lying, cheating, gossip, swearing and other bad deeds to cleanse the soul and practice virtue. Muslims partake in extended prayer, immersing themselves in spirituality and worship.
A typical day of Ramadan for CIA’s Dallas Global Assignment Coordinator Mai goes as follows: morning prayers and a light predawn meal, fasting and praying in the day while at work and, after sundown, a delicious feast with friends and family and additional prayers. With two children, Mai likes to cook at night in preparation for the next day’s meals. In some Muslim countries, employees do not work during the day, however many Muslims still go to work and school while abstaining from food. “My son sometimes has school all day and then the marching band” Mai recounted. While the Ramadan fast seems incredibly challenging, adherents become accustomed to it. “It is not that hard.” Mai explained. “You get used to it. It is a kind of worship.”
The obligations of Ramadan act as spiritual STOP signs. For just one month, Muslim’s set their personal routines and comforts aside and make faith in God the priority. When fasting from food, adherents experience hunger. “The point is to feel the hunger, the sacrifice,” explained Mai. Hunger is a physical reminder of the suffering of those who have less, which evokes gratitude for even the simplest things, like food. The surrender and suffering for a higher purpose brings Muslims closer to God.
Virtue, the second component of the fast, challenges Muslims to abandon poor habits. “I reflect more to try to better myself,” Mai recounted. Muslims practice discipline and integrity, because for self-improvement, one must hold himself accountable. During Ramadan, people also work to improve interpersonal relationships. For Mai, this involves spending more time with her children and reaching out to family members. Furthermore, charity, the third pillar of Islam, is a virtue practiced during Ramadan. Zakat, charity money, is donated at the end of the month long fast. As described by Mai, the spirit of giving and sharing is seen in Cairo, Egypt every night of the Ramadan, where Muslims open their homes and spread out elaborate feasts in the streets for the poor and homeless to enjoy.
Although fasting is individual, Ramadan is a holiday of togetherness. Hunger and sacrifice are shared experiences among all Muslims. Every single night of Ramadan, family and friends, some who have not seen each other in a year, come together to pray, celebrate and break the fast. “It is like Christmas or Thanksgiving every night!” explained Mai. Entire Muslim communities gather at mosques for extended worship. Some men even stay together overnight at the mosques for the last ten days of the Ramadan to dedicate themselves totally to worship. This togetherness fills the month of Ramadan with camaraderie, love, and a deep appreciation for family and community.
The responsibilities of Ramadan interrupt comfort and routine. Muslims press pause to make time and space for religious duty. To fast, to be good, and to prioritize family are challenges that require mindfulness, restraint, and a willingness to step outside of the individual. These challenges are constant reminders of God and build deep spiritual and personal growth. Muslims emerge from the month of Ramadan peaceful, spiritual, grateful, more disciplined, and connected with family. “During Ramadan, I am the best me,” Mai revealed. Perhaps all of us, Muslim and non-Muslim, can learn from the lessons of Ramadan. Spiritual purification of the body and the soul may be just the cleanse we all need.
Question and Answer:
Question and Answer:
Does everyone fast during Ramadan?
To participate in the physical fast, adherents must have reached puberty and be in good health. Those who cannot fast because of age, health restrictions or if they are traveling, can make it up through spiritually intensive acts such as charity, improved and increased prayer, or reading the entire Qur’an.
Does Ramadan happen the same month every year?
The holy month is celebrated in accordance to the lunar Islamic calendar and therefore moves back about 10-12 days every year.
How do people fast in regions where the sun never sets?
In cities where the sun does not set for days and weeks at a time, like Alaska, it is common for Muslims to follow the sunrise schedule of the nearest country or of the holy city of Mecca. In addition, the fasting hours of Ramadan vary depending on the region. While dawn to dusk in a Texas summer is approximately 4:50am-8:40pm, in Indonesia it is 5:40am-6pm.
How does Ramadan end?
Ramadan ends with the festival of Eid al-Fitr, which transates to “Festival of Breaking the Fast.” An important religious holiday, Eid al-Fitr celebrates the conclusion of the fast and is celebrated on the first day of the following month, Shawwal.
Does fasting during the month lead to weight loss?
While fasting is a good cleanse for the body, the meals (feasts) before dawn and after sunset, if large, can sometimes lead to weight gain. Muslims also remain relatively inactive to endure the fast. Ramadan is not known for significant weight loss.