I’m really excited: I’ve been looking forward to Ramadan 2014 for almost a year, and it has finally arrived!
A handful of questions probably spring to your mind:
- Why are you excited about Ramadan? And aren’t you a Buddhist?
- Didn’t Ramadan start a week ago? Why are you saying it has just arrived?
I’ll start at the end: yes, Ramadan did start last weekend. Different calendars (Saudi and US, for example) might have a different start date, but the Muslim communities with which I align my practice announced on Saturday June 28 that there had been no official sighting of the new moon and that Ramadan would begin on Sunday June 29th. I did not start on Sunday the 29th, though, because I was traveling.
The timing of my travel was unavoidable: my son, Neil, wants to study at Oxford University – in particular at Jesus College, where I spent three decadent years – and we learned just a month or two ago that the University open days were the week of July 4th. This was a wonderful opportunity that we couldn’t miss, and though in a more Muslim-sensitive world the open days would have been held in a different month, this was not to be. I sought advice from Imam Furqan Mohammad and was told that the traveler is exempt but must make up missed days at a later date. I was conflicted about whether to allow the entirety off my time in the UK as travel, and decided on balance to do so (I was there for 6 nights and slept in 4 different cities). Thus we came back last night, I took today to readjust and to celebrate homecoming with Neil, and I begin the fast tomorrow.
So why am I excited about Ramadan?
Beth and I had taken on a diet in June – essentially a paleo-diet modified for vegetarians. Without being able to eat meat or starch, we found getting a square meal a little tricky, but we were patient and tolerant of the challenges and of our transgressions and it went pretty well. And while I lost over ten pounds, above all for me the diet was an exercise in mindfulness. It meant that when I arrived in the UK I was extremely aware of my diet and of my excesses and indulgences. And now I am home, I have allowed myself to spend today, the eve of my Ramadan, in celebration. I went out for a late and large lunch with Neil, since when I have eaten chocolate and cookies and will have some ice-cream before I go to bed.
Tomorrow I start my fast.
Like a diet, like daily meal gathas, like reciting grace, Ramadan brings with it mindfulness. But it is so much more. I have observed the fast only once – last year – but over the last several months as I have anticipated its recurrence, mental and physical memories have been returning, and the associated feelings have quickened and intensified as the date has approached. The long and the short is that Ramadan is not for health or mindfulness but for God. It is a practice taken on as an act of supplication, of surrender, of gratitude, and it is a practice that considerably intensifies all experience. I am profoundly privileged to have the opportunity to fast and to both experience and express my gratitude for all that is my life.
I am a Buddhist but I have found something very rich and deep in my own practice of Islam, something I have found nowhere else, and I have developed a considerable admiration for the practice and the devotion of the many Muslims I know who every day recognize their faith in the clothes they wear, in the practice of stopping five times every day to pray, in their diet, and in so many other ways. Islam is not an easy faith, but it is a profound and rewarding one.
I expect the first two or three days of Ramadan to be difficult. I expect to find the hunger and thirst arising from not allowing food or liquid to cross my lips between sunrise and sunset to be challenging. I expect to find myself wondering if I can make it, wondering how I did so last year. I expect to be tested. But I expect to get through it and to enter the wonderful smooth and patient rhythm of Ramadan. In this space that will take a few days to reach, everything slows down; there is more space; priorities shift and everyday cares seem to diminish. And while culturally the US does not make it easy to fast, I will know that I am in the company of a billion Muslims worldwide, and will also have the self-confidence to live an otherwise ordinary life not eating or drinking. And I will endeavor to visit Mosques at the close of day for evening prayer and iftar, the communal daily breaking of fast after sunset.
I went out this afternoon and bought food for a hearty 4:30 am breakfast each day, and have pulled my Qur’an and biography of Muhammad off the shelf to start reading tonight (I will read both at least once during the month). My trip to Africa with Dad comes conveniently after Eid al-Fitr, the celebration at the end of Ramadan, and after I return from Africa I have a block of eight days set aside to complete my own observance of Ramadan. I am ready.
I have been waiting and anticipating and the month of fasting has finally arrived! I go to sit shiva for a Jewish friend’s father at 7:00 this evening, then will come home, have my last treat (some ice cream) and take an early night with my reading. Tomorrow is a big day. Alhamdulillah.
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