Originally published in Santa Barbara Independent
The atmosphere feels a bit different at 3:50 a.m. Hot summer days are suddenly cooled by the solitude this time of the night creates. Not only are many people at this hour awakening from a drunken stupor, but during the month of Ramadan, 1.3 billion Muslims in the world are awakening to pray and eat before their fast.
Muslims throughout the world fast during Ramadan, neither eating nor drinking between sunrise and sunset. Muslims experience and gain an understanding of hunger, a universal hardship whether you are in an American bungalow or an African desert. Muslims are required to give a portion of their income to the less fortunate (i.e., zakat), and Ramadan further inculcates the spirit of giving.
In some parts of the world, Muslims experience longer, more taxing fasts, whereas those experiencing winter have shorter days. However, Ramadan’s 30 days are a lunar month, so the calendar days on which it falls each year change. This keeps an equitable balance among Muslims throughout the world. It seems to me rather fitting that American Muslims are currently experiencing Ramadan in summer. After all, American Muslims need to test their strength and endure the attacks on Islam in today’s age with perseverance, patience, and prayer.
Fasting, however, isn’t just a means to cleanse the physical body (though it does allow the body to expend less energy when not consuming food and facilitates an internal healing process) but also a means to cleanse the soul. Prophet Muhammad is known to have said that the month of fasting is a time when God opens the gates towards paradise and Satan is restrained in shackles. The Prophet Muhammad further stated that fasting is like a shield. If anyone comes to start a quarrel, you should simply say, “I am fasting.”
But where are the restraints upon Satan today for those Muslims who persecute others simply because of a difference in beliefs? The restraining of Satan is conditioned on people’s willingness to restrain themselves. If there is no personal restraint, then fasting is just another hip, 30-day diet.
It is even sadder to see entire nations that, under the supposed flag of Islam, do not fully discharge their duties toward and respect the rights of their citizens. Countries like Pakistan, for example, claim Islamic traditions but unfortunately persecute minority religions. This issue, however, is not with Islam but those who claim to practice it.
It is interesting that the very first word ever revealed in the Qur’an, iqra, meaning to “read” or “convey,” is often what extremists and those who denounce Islam fail to do. They have not read the Qur’an with an open mind. If they did, then they would realize that it is a Muslim’s duty (22:41) to protect all houses of worship — cloisters, churches, and synagogues. As Americans, we should take it upon ourselves to read the Qur’an. Our founding fathers did.
Fasting isn’t unique to Islam; it is a practice of many religions. Buddha started his quest for truth through the instrument of fasting. Those who feel they can take up the challenge can start their own quest for truth through fasting. It opens the mind. With this open mind, we can learn about each other’s philosophies, appreciate each other’s beliefs. The atmosphere does feel a bit different when you realize the peace that is inherent in all religions. And that is an epiphany that does not come only at 3:50 a.m.