Ramadan, 30 days long - no food, no water - from sunrise to sunset. No not even a tiny drop of water. How we get on with life while performing one of the pillars of our faith? We are guided by a higher consciousness, is it hard? Yes, but we are on a spiritual detox.
Ramadan in a nutshell
For Muslims Muhammad Peace Be Upon Him is the final prophet who was sent as a guide to deliver the true word of God. The Quran, our Holy Book was first revealed to him on mount Jabl-e-Nur, in cave of Hira by the angel Jibreel Alayhi al-Salaam, also known by Christians as the angel Gabriel. The following words were spoken by the angel Jibreel (AS) to Muhammad (PBUH): “Recite! In the Name of your Lord, Who has created (all that exists)." [al-‘Alaq 96:1-3]. This event occurred in the month of Ramadan. Allah (SWT) directly gave Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) the power to recite the secret of all Creation. As Allah (SWT) is ordering His Messenger to "Recite".
One of the five pillars of Islam is to fast during the Holy month of Ramadan. But what is fasting actually about? As for many words in Arabic, there is always a deeper meaning to a word. To simply abstain from food and drink is what is called As Sawn. This is the singular definition for abstaining with the intention of worship. We also have a more thorough way of the fasting, we call this As Siyam, which means to abstain from anything that can invalidate the fasting which is intended to be an act of worship. This includes not eating and drinking, but also not backbiting, swearing, to stop our hand from corrupt acts like stealing or fraud, but also to not have intercourse with our partners between sunrise and sunset with the intention of worship.
The meal you eat during the morning, before the fast is called Suhoor, to consume this meal is considered to be a Sunnah, and it is consumed before dawn. The end of our daily fast, which is consumed after sunset, is called Iftaar.
When speaking of Ramadan with our peers and even with fellow Muslims, we realize that there are often misconceptions as to what Ramadan really entails. Hence, here are four of the most common misconceptions:
1) Ramadan and specifically Iftar is all about eating in abundance:
Before the start of Ramadan, many Muslim households opt to do a lot of grocery shopping. The fridges and kitchen cabinets are fully packed. Iftar tables with different dishes are deliciously looking, and waiting to be consumed by hungry fasters. In a digital era like ours, some of those fasters love to share their iftar meals on social media. Thus, it is not surprising that those who do not know the faith confuse Ramadan and iftar with a month that is all about eating in abundance. Many times while in conversation with Dutch friends, there have been occasions that while others seem rather surprised by the fact that Muslims cannot eat or drink during Ramadan, others nonchalantly claim that it is not that difficult, because Muslims eat from dusk to dawn, so they won’t be hungry during the day. Referring to what was previously mentioned. However, thinking that eating in abundance is part of Ramadan or even Islamic culture is a false premise.
One of the commands in the Quran is actually targeting this topic, it says: “Eat and drink, but be not excessive. Indeed, He does not like the lavish.” (Al-A’raf/The Elevated Place 7:31) On top of this there is an Hadith (narration of the Prophet PBUH) instructing how muslims should eat and drink, the Prophet PBUH said: ‘’Human beings do not fill a plate worse than their stomach. It is enough for him to eat and drink only as much as that keeps him up. If he has to eat more, then let him reserve one-third of his stomach for meal, beverage, and breathing.” (Tirmidhi, Zuhd/Asceticism, 47; Ibn Majah, At’imah/Foods, 50).
From this, we can clearly understand that the practice of eating too much is a cultural principle which people might confuse with Islam; however, it is something that is generally not advised in Islam.
2) Eid a feast characterized by sugary food?
The end of Ramadan is celebrated with Eid-al-Fitr also known as sugar feast. It is the day on which all Muslims are prohibited to fast and are told to celebrate. A common misconception regarding this feast is that many think that Muslims eat only or mostly sugary food. The reason for this in my opinion might be the translation of the Eid-al-Fitr into sugar feast or in Dutch Suikerfeest. However, Eid is no way connected to the consumption of sweet food. Nonetheless, Muslims do tend to eat together during this day, to pray, and have fun because it is a feast. How the day is celebrated can differ from country to country, but one thing that is sunnah, besides the above is the prayer of Eid performed in the morning.
3) Ramadan Muslims
Another widespread misconception is that Ramadan is the month of being the perfect Muslim (a misconception held by many Muslims). This means doing everything as recommended by the prophet PBUH, which of course is great. The problem; however, is that after Ramadan all those actions seem to fade away, and it becomes as if Ramadan never existed. Or Ramadan becomes the only period when Muslims really have to be committed to their religion. This is a misguided perspective of this time, as Muslims are always expected to do as the prophet PBUH recommended. Muslims are always expected to pray, to be charitable, not to gossip, etc. The month of Ramadan more than anything is a preparation for the rest of the year. Mufti Menk (a famous Islamic scholar) in one of his talks said: ‘if you can fast an entire month if you can abstain from what is halal for the sake of your maker, you can also abstain from what is haram for the sake of the same maker for the other 11 months’. To be able to do this, it is important for Muslims to hold onto the positive habits they worked on and developed during Ramadan, and try to resist old habits. The reason for this is to not let the month of fasting be for nothing, but instead a foundation for spiritual growth. (Disclaimer, this misconception is not applicable for everyone and or to different degrees. It should also be recognized that people experience faith and or spirituality differently, and are all on different journeys, which is totally fine.)
4) Ramadan is all about abstaining from food
When asked what Ramadan is about, most people tend to refer to it as the month of fasting. The focus is on abstaining from food for the sake of Allah (SWT), but there is much more than just this. As a matter of fact, just fasting without praying, while insulting and or having intercourse during the day can all cause your fast not to be accepted. Having intercourse or not praying definitely makes your fast invalid. As for breaking other rules, it is up to the merciful to decide whether he accepts your fast or not.
What should be understood more than anything, is the fact, that unlike anything else Muslims engage in the fast is the one thing they do for the sake of God. all other things they do for themselves.
To illustrate, the prophet Muhammad PBUH said in a narration mentioned in Sahih al Bukhari and Muslim: “Every deed of the son of Adam is multiplied, a single deed as ten times the like of it up to seven hundred times. Allah Almighty said, ‘Except for fasting, as it is for Me and I will reward it. He leaves his desires and his food for My sake.’”
The shifting focus during Ramadan from food and otherworldly desires can lead to the enjoyment of religion. It is important to realize from all this that by assuming that Ramadan is only about abstaining from food is wrong. It is about much more than that, it is done for the sake of Allah (SWT) and will be greatly rewarded.
So why do we fast? To answer that question with one word would be, for fulfillment, the feeling when you have gotten to the point at which you got closer to God during this month, you feel a sense of achievement in your humanity. This gives you a sense of purpose and a hope to stay on the path of righteousness.
Abstain from sustenance, worldly things, and to turn back to your one and only, that being Allah (SWT). Riiziane described it as the month you let go of the sense of immediate gratification and the letting go of the feeling of control. For example, when you eat the second you’re hungry you try to immediately feed your desires, regardless of whether it is necessary. By abstaining from your desires you practice a sense of self-control, to the point at which you build a dependence on your sustainer and affirm your religious beliefs. Now, this doesn’t mean we desire not to eat or drink, rather it is about balance. As challenging as it might be, we strive to be balanced in consumption not only of food and drinks but everyday things. It is like a detox from over-consumption and materialism. We naturally tend to think we are controlling our needs by consumption, but the spiritual and physical training Ramadan gives us is to understand and let go of the idea of consumption as control. Consumption no longer becomes the controlling component.
The end and a new beginning
At the end of the Ramadan, Muslims hope to have achieved spiritual enlightenment. For an entire month, they have abstained from eating and drinking during the day for the sake of their Creator. They have taken the time to ponder more about their life here on earth and most importantly about the hereafter (afterlife to Muslims) and their relationship with God. They stayed away from their bad habits, read the Quran, and spent their money on the poor. They sought the forgiveness and acceptance of the Almighty.
This month is the beginning of what the rest of life should be like. However, as we have seen from the previously mentioned misconception: ‘Ramadan Muslim’, after Ramadan, Muslims often tend to go back to our old habits. Often neglecting changes made, rather than building on them in an effort to become the best version of themself. Being consistent in the acts they engaged in during Ramadan after the fasting month is difficult but most definitely something worthwhile. At the end of Ramadan, Muslims should have trained themselves in such a way that they will resist worldly temptations that do not serve them in the hereafter. They should have made some sort of spiritual progress, and have come closer to Allah (SWT). When we asked our friends about their experience, they shared it with great excitement. For Riiziane, her first Ramadan was one you could describe you read about in books, she was about 7 to 8 years old, and at her grandparents’ home during winter. During the day they told her stories about Ramadan, Islam, and what it all means while here favortie meals where prepared by her grandparents. The whole day was filled with activities little kids enjoyed, but with an educational touch. To really create a warm connection with the concept of fasting. Amaal described it as something that took her a year. When she was 10 years old, coming home from school at that young age made waffles seem all that better. But after a year of perseverance, she learned to keep her fast all day. When it comes to preparation, Riiziane does not set high goals, besides cutting back on caffeine and really entering it with the goal of being balanced. So, this year she skipped focusing on targets, and over-preparing, it can actually be discouraging when you don’t reach the goals and can even become toxic when your focus is shifted away from being conscious. The real beauty of the Ramadan experience can often be overshadowed by setting high goals for yourself. While Amaal focussed on cleaning around the house, in order to enter the month of Ramadan, clean on all aspects. They both seemed to look forward to the experience itself, rather than actively preparing in any way. Which is a common experience among Muslims. The month itself means different things to every Muslim, but there are common meanings we all relate to collectively. To Amaal it is about self-discipline, besides obligatory religious reasons. She has a sense of responsibility to do right by herself and mostly by God. There is the perspective to fast based upon the obligation after having reached a certain age, while there is the other in which you aim to go through a certain cleansing process. Not only your body, as well as your soul. Consciousness to both of them is of importance. To Gain God’s Mercy. For him to be happy with what is done and what is not done. Riiziane used an Arabic word Rahma, meaning the miracles of God. It is about becoming more aware and grateful for all the blessings you have in your life. There are ways in which we adjust to Ramadan, without realizing, or being conscious of it, the reshifting of our focus. For Riiziane, rather than having to focus on visiting others, and formalities, she got to focus on the deeper spiritual benefits of fasting. Besides that, she no longer had to wake up at 3 o’clock to eat, and then again a few hours later to go to work, because of the Lockdown. The ability to shift schedules made it easier for her. Amaal spent time coping with the sudden changes but learned to accept social isolation, with the belief that change happens when it is supposed to, as it will in the future. It is not something she can change. Describing Ramadan at the hand of abstaining from sustenance (and yes even water) is not something that Muslims first do when asked the question “What is Ramadan?”. Riiziane for example says it is a month of reflection, re-boosting your spiritual connection with your creator. How abstaining from food, serves a purpose of increasing your spiritual connection. Ramadan to Amaal is a time in which you make the best version of yourself visible, both personal and religious aspects of yourself are amplified. While both of these influence one another.
"When the month of Ramadan starts, the gates of heaven are opened and the gates of hell are closed and the devils are chained." - Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)
As there is to everything an ending, Ramadan too has to end at a certain point. Here are some wise words shared by our writers: “I hope to hold on to my awareness, what I have been doing this Ramadan is not only just reading the Quran very quickly, trying to read as many chapters and verses as I can. But I redirected that focus from quantitative to qualitative. I now only try to read and then reflect upon it, to see if I can implement it, when I am satisfied with the way I have been implementing it, then I can continue to the next verse. So I really hope to hold on to that. It is also how the companions of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) used to live, they would put everything into practice, and then move on to some other form of information.” - Riiziane Golamun “The month of Ramadan is a month in which I work on myself through my religion as my aim is to become closer to God and to become a better person. It is the slow progress of changing small aspects of yourself that matters. Holding on to minor changes is a success by itself.” - Amaal Ali
“I love everything about Ramadan, knowing that fasting is something I do for the one who made me gives me energy and joy. For me, this holy month is a way to connect on a deeper level with Allah. During this month I am more conscious of my actions, I set goals for myself and try to learn. Ramadan is truly a spiritual journey for me, a month I miss even before it ends.’’ - Hadiatou Barry
“Ramadan to me is the opportunity to become closer to God, to put my focus elsewhere, and to remind myself of my true purpose. Why am I here? What am I going to do to make sure my time on earth was worthwhile, and how do I relate it to God?” - Kinza M. Hussain
Written by: Hadiatou Barry, Riiziane Golamun, Amaal Ali, Kinza M. Hussain