With Ramadan running through the month, Frankfort Patch asked Khalid Mozaffar to talk about the signficance of the holiday. Mozaffar, an Orland Park resident, is a member of the American Islamic Association in Frankfort where he serves as its communications and outreach director, as well as the assistant principal for the AIA Islamic School.
My family and I wish to extend to all the Greetings of Peace, as we Muslims observe the holy month of Ramadan. I would like to take this opportunity to explain what it is exactly that we are "observing."
During the month of Ramadan, my family and I--along with more than 1.5 billion Muslims around the world, including more than 6 million Muslims in the United States--observe this month with great excitement and an elevated sense of spirituality. It is the month of mercy, compassion and good citizenship. The majority of the world's Muslims strive to serve the needy and serve humanity at large, more so in Ramadan than they do during the rest of the year.
The Power of Fasting
So what is Ramadan? Why do Muslims put themselves through this annual ritual of fasting? What do we gain from it?
According to Muslim beliefs, God answers these questions very concisely in a verse in the Holy Quran:
O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you so that you may learn self-restraint. (Translation of verse 2:183)
Learning self-restraint and developing God-consciousness is the essence of fasting. My hope during Ramadan is that by gaining control of my needs, actions and desires (some of them lawful, such as eating food and drinking water) for 30 consecutive days, I will find myself in a better position during the rest of the year to keep away all that is forbidden by God and stay connected with God.
God mentions in the above quoted verse that fasting was "prescribed for those before" the Muslims, referring to the People of the Book, specifically the Jewish and Christian people. Muslims firmly believe that God's messengers, including Moses, Jesus and Mohammad (peace be upon them), taught their followers fasting as a means of worship of the One God, and thus, I consider fasting a common point between the three major monotheistic religions.
Fasting is not just abstaining from food, drink and spousal relations during the daylight hours, but also abstaining from bad habits, such as lying, cheating, getting angry (vocally), arguing, swearing, back-biting and so on.
How the Holiday is Celebrated
A typical day in Ramadan starts very early. Even though pre-adolescent children are not required to fast, my two young children insist on doing so. My family wakes up half an hour before the break of dawn for a special meal, called the Suhoor. At dawn, we stop eating and drinking.
As we go about our daily business, we try to do extra acts of worship to bring us closer to God, such as prayers and readings from the Holy Quran. At sunset, we gather at the dining table and break our fast (Iftar), thus strengthening our family bonds. At night time, we go the mosque to attend special nightly congregational prayers called the Taraweeh prayers--this strengthens our bonds as a community.
The Islamic calendar follows the lunar cycle, just like the Jewish calendar. Because Ramadan started Aug. 1 this year, the daily fasting period starts around 4 a.m. and ends around 8 p.m.
Making Connections and Feeling Compassion
We find many other benefits in fasting besides spiritual focus. Going hungry and thirsty for a day makes us understand first hand the plight of the needy and poor, and thus, we strive to be more compassionate toward them.
Fasting also makes us realize the true blessing of the things we take for granted, such as water and food. We remember to thank God for them continuously and to consume them with moderation. Many people during Ramadan develop and strengthen their willpower to the point they are able to overcome many addictions and immoral behaviors.
I wish everyone peace and friendship! May we all come together to work selflessly together for the betterment of society, as taught to the Muslims by the lessons of Ramadan!
Mozaffar will be speaking about Ramadan and Islam in the United States at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 10, in Room 101 at Rasmussen College in Mokena. Mozaffar's talk follows a screening of the film American Ramadan at 4 p.m. Call 815-534-3300 for more information.