Originally published in the Tulsa World
It’s nearly July, so I feel it appropriate that I should bring your attention to Christmas, or at least what many of my friends label as ‘Christmas for Muslims’. Although some people have a problem with this comparison, and while there are many differences between the Muslim month of Ramadan and Christmas, the true spirit of both these holidays has many similarities.
Christmas always seems to come around in the nick of time when the temperature starts to drop and moods begin to turn cold to remind us of values that are important to all of us, whatever our religious bent. In the same sense, people of all faiths would do well to take the lessons of the upcoming month of Ramadan to heart.
Ramadan is a month of peace in every sense of the word. Inner peace, outer peace, world peace, which every type of peace you can think of, this month beats a path to that peace. Prophet Muhammad beautifully illustrated this when he said: “Fasting is a shield; so when one of you is fasting he should neither indulge in obscene language nor should he raise his voice in anger. If someone attacks him or insults him, let him say: ‘I am fasting!’”
Imagine if those who falsely claim to be fighting in the name of a religion kept this idea in mind, even for a month? Islam, instead, exhorts patience in the face of undeniable aggression at a time when nerves are at their frailest. This simple point shows how far apart people who carry out this violence and the true nature of the religion of Islam is.
Non-Muslim Americans can also learn from the practical aspects of Ramadan. A strict fast (no food, no liquid) must be observed during daylight hours for the whole month. This may seem brutal to some, but, as someone who has been doing this for nearly twenty years now and as a physician, I believe this tackles the problem of obesity at its very core. Putting aside the obvious mild weight loss that tends to occur if fasting is observed properly, a much deeper and longer lasting change can occur. As many of my health care professionals can attest to there is overwhelming psychological dependence on food which in turn causes overeating and obesity. Through fasting one becomes acutely aware of the value of food and water and exactly how much of each your body needs for physical sustenance. In short, many people learn that their body can, not just survive, but thrive without this heavy attachment to food.
Adding quality years to your life is all well and good, but the true beauty of this month lies in its spirit of charity. Fasting for what this year will be nearly 16 hours helps us not only value food and water but also empathize keenly with those who have to go without food and water every day. Islamic teaching doesn’t rest there though. Prophet Muhammad has called it “the month of charity” and admonished all Muslims to work especially hard to feed the hungry during this month. In fact, feeding of the poor is also considered a good alternative for those who cannot fast due to health or travel restrictions.
It is easy enough to see that the most important and celebrated time for Muslims can hold meaning for everyone, if only with the right attitude. When someone asks me why I like Christmas even though I don’t celebrate it my answer has always been simple: I know the spirit of compassion behind it. It is my sincere hope, that those of us who may not know too much of Islam can use this coming month of Ramadan and similarly appreciate its peaceful and charitable nature.
Oh and food-lovers don’t despair, just visit the nearest Muslim friends’ house after sunset and enjoy some of the best food you’ve ever had.