Usually an event or holiday reveals the essence of a faith. Like Yom Kippur for Jews or Easter for Christians, Ramadan offers the central theme for Muslims: Submit completely — mind and body — to seek closeness to God in order to attain piety.
Ramadan is also significant because it fulfills one of the five pillars of Islam: “Saum” which means fasting or abstaining. It is an obligatory form of worship for Muslims.
In almost all traditions, fasting is observed by abstaining or giving up food, water or personal pleasures or parting with wealth as charity. In some cases, it means living in solitude and silence. However, the purpose of this worship in Islam is to prepare an individual to be virtuous and upstanding, a person who will discharge his duties to his creator on one side and to the society on the other.
During this 30-day period, Muslims fast from dawn to sunset — no food, water or sexual relationship; abstaining one’s mind from any carnal thoughts, connivance, plotting and scheming against others; purifying the heart from lust, bigotry and hate and any other form of ill will toward others.
This season allows Muslims to seek a spiritual asylum into their inner being to reflect upon life and the purpose of their existence, which is complete submission and obedience to Allah (God), seeking His pleasure and nothing less.
This experience helps formulate the ideal Islamic character in a believer — one who abides by the commands to abstain even in private, with no witnesses but the all-knowing, omnipresent God. He develops a sense of duty to respect authority with obedience that obligates him to comply with the terms of fasting voluntarily. It is a test of resolve to choose between material and spiritual benefits, between the pleasures of this world and the reward in the hereafter — all for the pure pleasure of God.
It is a time for charity, to attend to the relatives and the weak and vulnerable in the community. Fasting for a month may seem difficult, but most Muslims look forward to it because it is the opportunity to reflect upon one’s actions and events of the past. Recognizing the wrongs one has committed, admitting to one’s shortcomings and committing to mend the behavior are liberating experiences.
Collectively, a group of people that forsakes its own priorities for the sake of the others, all for one reward — the pleasure of their creator — is a blessing for any community.
Mohammad S. Shakir, director, Miami-Dade County Asian-American Advisory Board, Miami