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The International Writers Magazine: Holy Month - From Our Archives

Ramadan virtues!
Marwan Asmar

During Ramadan I read the Koran maybe five to six times if I can push it. I develop an extraordinary ability to read and read the holy book for I find the month is a heart rending experience, a period of intense spiritual devotion, which I don't experience in any other month of the year. Ramadan has become a month of serenity, a time when you feel at peace with yourself, a sort of uplifting experience were your soul is at one and the same time lifted between earth and the heavens.

The whole Muslim world—1.5 billion people—start fasting just before the sun raises to sun-down as commitment to God and his commands. The Sohour of eating before the sun raise is a religious ritual, designed to give us the strength to carry on the day till sundown when we break the fast.

Ramadan is a commitment to God, one of whose characteristics is to feel with the poor and hungry and realize the Almighty has bestowed upon you greater material things you should appreciate and not over-indulge in or use in excess.

We try to apply the teachings of the Quran and Islam during the holy month, and not indulge in over-eating after the breaking of the fast, but I suppose like anybody else we are guilty of not sufficiently feeling with the poor, despite the fact it is rife, and you see them everywhere men, women and children holding their hand out to you in the street and coming to your shop and asking for money.

But, this is human nature, the way we have been molded, from the day we were first conceived in the womb, that’s why Islam came to us as a source of spiritual salvation, as enlightenment, a methodology, a way of thinking, and a way of life to be connected to God.

I like Ramadan, because for one whole month our lives appear to be turned upside down. Our eating habits change, our sleeping habits change, we start praying on a regular basis, and maybe hear the word of God more often on our lips than we usually do in any other part of the year. Many start praying, the regular five times a day routine.

We are supposed to stop indulging in idle talk and stop talking about other people behind their backs and just keep to one self in spiritual solitude, praying to and thinking about the connection that binds us to God. In Islam, we are constantly told through the Koran to think how we are made, think of the universe, the earth and the skies, and ponder on the vastness and the extraordinary ability of that omnipotent being and examine that eclectic relations where we are supposed to obey commands, and are intrinsically related to the wishes of God, but at the same time have the freewill to make our decisions, and reach conclusions of our own.

I like Ramadan because we don't spend much, we cut down on our spending habits, we eat what's in the fridge, and that includes the leftovers, we eat lots of salad, or fatoush (bread and salad) and Qatayeef (small velvety bread with almonds or cheese and sugar) for sweetners, but try not to indulge, buy lots of Qamar Din (apricot drink ) for instance to prevent thirst.

My wife keeps telling me we are not representative of other people, who engage in a spending spree of over-buying food that necessarily goes to waste. We try to stick to basics, although consumption booms during the holy month.
We do however continue to drink Pepsi or Coke with guilt complexes about not boycotting the soft drinks because of being sold freely in Israel that is still widely regarded as an occupation state.

But we try console ourselves by saying the game of boycott is bigger than us, the fizzy soft drink maybe unbearable to resist despite the fact that more and more people maybe shying away. We say it’s a great game of power politics and economics and that the road to non-violent action is long and dreary, and needs commitment.

Instead we limit our devotion to the cultural, religious and spiritual aspects of life, ideas and feelings which we feel we have control over. We like to think of Ramadan as "civilizational", enriching our soul, with good things in life ones that would please God. In themselves these are deep fulfilling issues but are they enough when so many things are wrong in this world!

Ramadan has practical aspects as well. It is actually good for the stomach, it's healthy, by a process of denial we are actually enriching our body. By ceasing to eat for one month, you are giving your stomach a rest, from the constant chewing and churning of food, from the everyday wants of avarice, indulging in unnecessary needs and unwanted desires.

As human beings, we constantly drive our selves beyond bodily needs, we eat, drink and copulate in excess, without realizing the damage we are doing to ourselves, our liver, intestines, heart and blood circulation.

In Ramadan our body clock sort of eases down, developing a slower pace to relax and push its muscles in the way it wants, by fasting we are in fact protecting our circulation system, stopping our hands from reaching for the cup of coffee all the time or the pack of cigarettes, from munching from the fridge at all hours of the day. Ramadan is about developing will-power and instituting a method to our life.

In Ramadan the focus shifts from superfluous wants to spiritual needs, with the net result of rejuvenating our bodies both physically and spiritually. Of course as Muslims, we need to increase that spirituality through constant prayers and the utterance of God on our lips which demands a certain amount of will-power to forego immediate pleasures like watching the television and Arabic soap operas which tend to be plenty of in Ramadan. We unfortunately fall guilty to these whims!

If we are fasting for strictly religious reasons, rather than those who just abstain for customary and social reasons—which is the case for quite a lot people—we don’t feel as hungry as the others because there is a purpose, objective and a goal in our fast.

Hunger and thirst is deflected through religious reverence, prayer and ablution that refreshes our very being and increases our will power to help our fellow-beings while devoting our mind, body and soul to a higher being, God.
Ramadan increases our spiritual perception, makes us more pious and in some cases humble. Ramadan lowers our threshold of selfishness, greed, individualism, immediate family interests. It makes the need for togetherness, collectiveness, know the needs of thy neighbor and extend a helping hand that much more greater.
Ramadan is about helping to build the nation and make it strong by making its communities wield together, it's about kin and folk rather than parochialism and isolationism.

© Marwan Asmar September 2007

Dreaming Dubai
Marwan Asmar
I had been to Dubai twice in my life: In 1998 and 2003, the latter was a harrowing experience.

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