Saturday, September 1, 2012

Impression of Ramadan Among non-Muslims



I would like to extend a belated eid mubarak to you. I pray that our efforts during ramadan were accepted. A sign that one’s efforts during Ramadan have been accepted is that those efforts continue outside of Ramadan.

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I want to relate two conversations I’ve had with non-Muslim colleagues at work during previous Ramadans. Perhaps you may have had similar conversations:


Conversation #1

It was lunchtime and I was feeling a little lethargic from the fast. Taking a breather, I got comfy in my office chair as I released the tension built up from working all morning. But that moment of relaxation was interrupted by Irene, my office neighbour. She popped her head above the cubicle wall of my office and asked me, “Aren’t you having lunch now?”

Oh, no, I’m fasting,” I replied with a hint of reluctance, not knowing how to tell her that I was having a moment. I started typing away at my keyboard to appear busy.

Oh, right, is it the month of - what’s that called again?” asked Irene, getting more comfortable against the cubicle wall.

Yes – Ramadan,” I replied, hoping that my short response would signal that I wasn’t in the mood to have this conversation. Not deterred by my subtle cues however, she quickly rebounded with another question, expressing even greater interest and curiosity.

So do you have to fast for a whole month?”

Yes.”

My gosh, how can you do that!? But you can drink water, right?”

No. But we can eat between sunset and dawn. It’s only between dawn and sunset that we can’t eat or drink anything,” I responded with detail, giving in to being held hostage in this conversation.

Oh, ok! I thought you couldn’t eat anything for a whole month!”

No, of course not, otherwise we would starve to death. It’s just between dawn and sunset.”

Ok, well, that still sounds difficult for me, I don’t think I could do it. I mean, I have missed lunch a few times, but that’s it. And the days are so long now. It must be so hard on you. And what about those people living in hotter countries such as Egypt, it must be so difficult for them working in the heat while fasting.”

At this point, I entered apologetic mode. “Yeah, well the first few days are tough but it gets easier after that.” But I didn’t know how to explain away the plight of the fasting person labouring in the Egyptian heat. Nevertheless, feeling obliged to respond, all I could say was, “Those warmer countries also have a lot shorter days, so it’s not that bad.” I tried to control my tone and facial expression as the suckiness of that answer reverberated throughout my body.

Conversation #2

It was just the beginning of Ramadan and my body wasn’t responding well to the fast. The migraine was intolerable, and therefore I wasn’t getting much work done in my office. I sent an email to my manager telling him that I was going home to get some rest.

As I stood in the lobby area waiting for an elevator, I fidgeted with my head to circumvent the pain from the migraine. Patricia showed up and noticed me in an uncomfortable state.

How’s it going?”

Not feeling well, got a migraine so I’m heading home.”

You’re fasting these days, aren’t you?”

Yeah, how did you know?”

Oh I have a Muslim friend who’s also fasting. She told me. You’re probably getting the headache because of the fast, aren’t you.”

hmmm...,” I breathed, with an expression of reflection.

Your religion is too strict. I hope you get better soon.”

Down and out. When was that elevator going to come.

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In Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power, one of his laws states, “Make your accomplishments seem effortless.” There are accounts of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon Him) exercising this ‘law’, such as during the lesser pilgrimage a year after the treaty of hudaybiyah. The polytheists had spread rumours that the Muslims were weak because a disease in Yathrib had exhausted them. Therefore Prophet (peace and blessings be upon Him) had ordered the pilgrims to run in the first three rounds and then walk in the remaining ones. The Muslims performed the circumambulation vigourously and briskly, appearing undeterred and at ease in their circumambulation. The Makkans meanwhile watched atop the surrounding mountains tongue-tied at witnessing the strength and devotions of the Muslims (based on Ar Raheeq ul Makhtum).

While this law is presented to acquire power, it can be interpreted in a different and opposite way - to show how, despite lacking any special power, Muslims find Islam to be a very doable, 'effortless' religion, and not at all burdensome, unreasonable, or harmful (for “Allah does not burden a soul except with that which it can bear” [2:286]).

So, In other words, in our context, the law “Make your accomplishments seem effortless,” can be interpreted as the following: after establishing your powerlessness, make your fasts seem effortless. Make your salat seem effortless. Make your avoidance of the haram seem effortless. Make your charity seem effortless. Make your sacrifices seem effortless. In summary, do not portray your ibadah as something only possible for a select people, lest people repel from Islam. 

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon Him) also recognized this principle.

We know that the Prophet is the beloved of Allah, the best of all creation, a light, a human unlike other humans just as a pearl is a stone unlike other stones. His rank knows no bounds save divinity. However, Allah sent Him to humanity, not just to call people to Islam, but to be a human embodiment of Islamic teachings so that humans could relate to Islam. “Allah did confer a great favour on the believers when He sent among them a Messenger from among themselves, rehearsing unto them the Signs of Allah, sanctifying them, and instructing them in Scripture and Wisdom, while, before that, they had been in manifest error.” [3:164]

Therefore, to fulfill his purpose as mentioned in the verse above, and to show Islam as relevant, attainable, and universal, he drew to the level of the people. Despite the option to live like a king, he chose to live a humble life, wearing simple clothes, eating simple food, living in simple home. He did home chores, and attended to people’s mundane needs, and played with children. He would also explicitly mention his human-ness. It is related that a man approached the Prophet, and while speaking to him, was seized by fear of the Prophet. Upon witnessing his demeanour, the Prophet said to him: "Take it easy and calm down, for verily I am not a king, rather, I am only a son of a Quraishy women who use to eat dried salted meat strips." (Ibn Majah).

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In the above conversations I had, both Irene and Patricia were expressing sympathy over my apparent hardship of fasting during the month of Ramadan. While receiving sympathy often makes the nafs feel good, the underlying assumption of the sympathy I received was that Ramadan was unfair, absurd, and perhaps torturous. My contribution to the conversation further supported that impression, unfortunately.

Instead of sympathy, what I should have sought was respect, enthusiasm, and admiration for the blessed month of Ramadan. Instead of feeling defensive about ramadan, or instead of displaying my discomfort through fasting, I should have portrayed how effortless, refreshing, and natural fasting is; that not only does fasting not affect one’s health and performance, it enhances it. I should have used these conversations as opportunities to generate a positive impression of Islam, highlighting how grateful I am for this month, how spiritually powerful it is, and how it trains one to develop self-control. Not only should I have communicated these impressions, I should have lived them.


2 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing this incident so honestly. I fasted this year in Egypt with my kids and though the days were long the fasting was good.
    The nights were spent mostly at the mosque with kids in tow it was the most physically taxing fast I've ever had but also the most fulfilling.

    I felt fortified and empowered. And hope I will continue to experience Ramadaans like this one.

    When someone doesn't understand the goal of the fasting it is easy to consider it difficult and cumbersome. I have found that many who understand the goals of the fast are inspired by it and may even attempt it.
    I like to use the words spiritual / physical detox when I speak of Ramadaan.

    These are opportunities for dawah.
    May Allah grant us success in this.

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    Replies
    1. wa alaikum as salam,

      thanks for the comment. If possible for you, spend your ramadan in the haramain. It was an experience unlike any other for me (see my post: http://www.propheticprinciples.com/2011_11_01_archive.html)

      We should see ramadan in its proper perspective and convey that perspective to others. That was the message I hope to have delivered from the post.

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