You mean you can’t even drink water?” a friend asked me this question with a bewildered look on her face, she couldn’t believe that fasting during the month of Ramadan meant I would not drink or eat from sunrise to sunset for an entire month.
As my friend stood there looking bewildered, I thought, is it really that hard to believe that Muslims refrain from food and drink during the fast? We fast the whole day knowing that we will be ending our fast with the setting of the sun, and in the context of a world where many live in poverty, where hunger and thirst for many become a way of life, our fasting really is a simple duty. This is the spirit of Ramadan, it is about understanding the feeling of hunger, it is about building empathy, self-restraint and piousness.
For myself, and for all devout Muslims, Ramadan holds such deep teachings; it is not a month about food, or about socialising in the evenings in Ramadan tents, or watching Ramadan shows on TV, Ramadan is about learning compassion, it’s about “cultivating our piety”.
What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar (hijri calendar), we consider it to be the most holy and spiritually-beneficial month of the Islamic year. Ramadan is the month when the first verses of the holy Quran were revealed.
Fasting in the month of Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam, and all Muslims who are mentally and physically able and that have reached puberty are required to fast during this month.
Those who are sick, travelling, pregnant, menstruating or nursing women, are not required to fast, however, those who are unable to fast for these reasons must make up the days they missed fasting upon recovery or return, or after weaning.
In the month of Ramadan, we begin the fast with the sunrise and end the fast with the sunset, or with the fourth Muslim prayer of the day (maghrib prayer). The fast is ended each evening with a meal called iftar and the last meal we have is in the morning right before dawn which is called suhur.
The fast of Ramadan is not about physical deprivation, it is meant to be deeply spiritual experience. In the holy Quran it is stated that the purpose of the fast is to develop a quality which in Arabic we call taqwa.
Taqwa can be defined as, “worshipping God as if you see Him, because if you don’t, He sees you”. Taqwa is about cultivating an awareness that God is always watching. For example, when I fast nobody but God knows if I actually have observed the entire fast or if I secretly cheated. So in order to resist the temptation to cheat during the fast, I must remember that God is always watching and will see any lapse.
This sense of taqwa is carried over into other areas of our lives, hence by fasting we foster a habit of piousness, self-restraint, and an inner-balance. For devout Muslims Ramadan is a month of worship; prayer and recitation of the Quran during this month are pivotal, and it is common practice during this month to provide food/iftar to others especially the poor on a daily basis.
Today is the first day of Ramadan and over a billion people will be observing the fast during this holy month.
Whether you will be fasting or not, I hope that the lessons that Ramadan teaches of taqwa, compassion, piousness and charity will remain with you, and not just during this holy month, but I hope that you will carry these lessons with you every day of your life.
Najla Al Awadhi is a member of the UAE parliament (the Federal National Council), Deputy CEO Dubai Media Incorporated, and General Manager of Dubai One TV.