For many Muslims worldwide, the 2nd of April marks the first day of Ramadan, the observance of the fasting (from food, water and innate desires) between sunrise and sunset. Muslims will faithfully observe this third fundamental pillar of Islam as has been ordained by God. In addition to the physical sacrifices and discipline that Ramadan brings about, it also represents a spiritual space for remembering and strengthening relationships: with yourself, with the Creator and with each other.
Relationship with the Creator
We are invited to re-examine our relationship with the Creator. Through acts of worship during the Blessed Month we take up a dialogue with The Most-High and The Most-Close, a dialogue of intimacy, of sincerity, of love. This re-examination allows us to realize that we marry the purpose of our existence with the purpose of our subsistence, whilst nurturing the inspiration from the Qur’an that ‘God will not change anything for the good if you change nothing’!
Ramadan reinforces within ourselves the importance of detail, precision and discipline in whatever task that we perform. Through Ramadan, God teaches us that in the quest for spirituality and meaning, rules will have to be respected, consistency maintained and time mastered. So as we debate on the precise starting and ending day of Ramadan; and we faithfully adhere to the precise time to stop eating and to break the fast; and we perform prayers at the specified times; so must we continue this discipline of precision and practice in all that we do.
Relationship with ourselves
Ramadan offers us a space to ponder, to reflect, to seek, to find and to learn in order for us to make crucial life changing decisions as we align ourselves towards the Centre and the Meaning and re-examine the relationship with ourselves. Seeking that meaning is best understood if you have read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, where the understanding is very simple: ‘Go; travel the world, look for the truth and the secret of life — every road will lead you to this sense of initiation: the secret is hidden in the place from which you set out’.
This is in essence the ultimate paradox of spiritual experience whereby the constant effort that we make to purify, to control and liberate our hearts is in the end, a reconciliation with the deepest level of our being and the All Spark that the Creator breathed into our heart, of humility, of compassion, the awareness of fragility, the consciousness of limitation, the shoulder of responsibility. The responsibility to live justly and fairly. It is a responsibility that connects to the ‘other’, the responsibility to be that change for a world which makes sense, a world in which we connect with other people, beyond our immediate communities and experience, where we show them compassion and love.
Relationship with the Other
At the heart of our consumer society, where materialism and individualism drive our daily lives, this love and compassion is vital as we are reminded of our unity and universality through a celebration of the faith of fraternal atmosphere shared with all brothers and sisters. We are reminded to ‘serve humanity especially those in need; to awaken our conscience in the proximity of the wounds and the injustices people face as we are taught that God’s favor lies with acts of kindness and humility to everyone around you. As narrated by the Prophet (Peace be upon him) of the story about the ‘thirsty dog which was on the brink of death, and of the passing prostitute who witnessed this, removed her shoe and used it to draw water from a well to give to the animal. For this small act, the woman was granted forgiveness for her lifetime’. The lesson that we learn from that story is that our purpose of existence is to stand by justice and equity; to portray the humility and compassion of the Prophet (upon whom be peace) towards the downtrodden, the distressed and the oppressed.
Ramadan invites us to re-examine our relationship with our society. It teaches us that we share the burdens of others (especially those less fortunate than us) and we remember our responsibilities towards them. Identifying with others in different ways is important in our role of living in society as founded upon a universal humanitarian principle based on the following verse from the Holy Qur’an “…If anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all mankind…” (Q5:32).
Hence this is the purpose of our existence. Collectively and individually we have to recommit ourselves to realize a dream and fulfill a covenant that was made with the One: to stand by justice and equity; to show humility and compassion towards the vulnerable and marginalised, the downtrodden and distressed regardless of who they are, as we have been taught countless times before. Our covenant is to serve humanity; to be witnesses against the injustices that afflict them. Because humanity has the right to have witnesses living among them, willing to defend the truth; willing to serve them, no matter how unpopular it is. This takes determination and courage where courage is not the absence of fear but courage is to move despite your fear. This is the dream that we aspire to. This is the need of the hour.
Thus Ramadan is about reinforcing relationships though a reconnection with our spark, reinforcing our personal effort and commitment and inviting us towards the deep horizons of introspection and meaning reminding us of silence, restraint and remembrance.
So a world which makes sense, is a world in which we connect with other people, often beyond our immediate communities and experience, and show them compassion and love. This is the ultimate aspect of the relationship building as inculcated by Ramadan.