3:00 a.m. Friday. July 20th.
Dark. Cool. Open windows. The fan hums softly in the background. It’s really dark. It’s the first day of the Blessed month of Ramadan and I want to have some breakfast and take my meds before dawn breaks.
It’s going to be a long day. It will be about 17 hours before I eat and drink again. Fasting during Ramadan is one of the obligatory pillars of Islam, a month when all Muslims, if they are healthy and beyond the age of puberty, abstain from drinking, eating, smoking and sex between dawn and sunset of each day. A time of reflection. A time to offer charity, to heal relationships, and to try and keep from getting agitated or angry toward others.
Sometimes that last part is hard.
In a philosophical sense, America is one of the easiest countries where one can be a Muslim. A Muslim can lead a Sharia-compliant life in America free of government coercion. No one tells me whether, how or when to pray. No one tells a woman she must be totally covered and submissive to men. No one enforces the fast.
No one intercedes between me and God.
I like it that way.
7:00 a.m. The news from Colorado is so awful and tragic. Pray for the victims and their families. No more killing. Please. Not today. Not during Ramadan. Not by anyone. Not ever.
Dear reader, indulge me. Let me tell you about Ramadan, why it matters, why it matters to me to share my thoughts with you. While, in a political sense it’s often hard to be a Muslim here, I wouldn’t be anywhere else. While sometimes I get fearful of the ignorance that keeps raising its ugly face, I know that’s not the true America. When mosques get torched and Qur’ans get desecrated, when public servants like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s aide, Huma Abedin, and Tennessee Executive Service Employee Samar Ali, get smeared in public simply because of their religion I know that that is not the America that most of us embrace. Know, also, that the Islam I embrace is not the Islam of the haters.
“It was the month of Ramadan in which the Qur’an was (first) bestowed from on high as a guidance unto man and a self-evident proof of that guidance, and as the standard by which to discern the true from the false. Hence, whoever of you lives to see this month shall fast throughout it; but he that is ill, or on a journey, (shall fast instead for the same) number of other days. God wills that you shall have ease, and does not will you to suffer hardship; but (He desires) that you complete the number (of days required), and that you extol God for His having guided you aright, and that you render your thanks (unto Him).” Qur’an 2:185 (Asad).
Ramadan is God’s challenge to mankind: Be mindful of who you are, be mindful of God’s blessings, be compassionate. Embrace Truth. It is a time of reflection, of restraint and renewal. Our thirst and hunger reminds us not only of the abundance, and sometimes the excess, of our lives but of the many for whom each day is a struggle with poverty and hunger. It is a time to be in deep contact with our “inner selves,” our innate nature, our fitra.
As the hijra, Islamic, calendar is lunar, each year Ramadan arrives 11 days sooner than the previous year. In winter, days of fasting are short. In a summer such as we are experiencing, fasting lasts about 17 hours, a challenge during the heat of a New England summer. It is a welcome challenge. Muslims embrace Ramadan with love and joy.
Love with the Beloved is celebrated, materialism is rejected, desires are sidelined, and space is created in our hearts and lives for the divine.
Iftar, the meal which breaks the fast at day’s end, begins by eating dates, in the tradition of the Prophet. Special foods are prepared. Families and friends gather together, Muslims and non-Muslim. Extra congregational prayers (Tarawih) are performed at night. The month ends with Eid Al-Fitr, celebrated in prayer and large community meals. The Eid is celebrated as Easter and Passover are celebrated, often with new clothes and gifts for children.
Ramadan is the holiest month in the Hijra calendar because it is the month during which God began to reveal the Qur’an to the Prophet Muhammad. The first verse revealed was, “Read in the name of thy Sustainer, who has created man out of a germ-cell. Read, for thy Sustainer is the Most Bountiful One who has taught [man] the use of the pen, taught man what he did not know!” Qur’an. 96:1-5 (Asad).
As it is not precisely clear on which night, “Behold, from on high have We bestowed this (divine writ) on the Night of Destiny,” revelation began, other than it was sometime during the last 10 days of Ramadan, many Muslims spend those last 10 days in their mosque, in prayer and contemplation.
And it is in prayer and contemplation, here at home, where one can witness the power and beauty of the American promise, where fitra demands adherence to truth.
As Americans, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, in our aspirations, in our hopes for the future, we are sustained by our prayers that truth prevails. When Sen. John McCain said, from the Senate floor, “Huma represents what is best about America: the daughter of immigrants, who has risen to the highest levels of our government on the basis of her substantial personal merit and her abiding commitment to the American ideals that she embodies so fully,” he was manifesting truth to all.
Americans, to all generations, to their aspirations, regardless of race, religion or ethnicity.
He was speaking truth to all who are committed to “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
I’ll pray to that.
This column appeared originally in the Portsmouth Herald.