Disciplining the soul to distance itself from animal passion lightens its being and lifts it away from the heavy, opaque, materiality of its existence and toward something more ethereal.
Looking into the core of Ramadan
We are all human. At one end of what that statement means, we share a lot in common with the animals. Humans can be bestial, callous, and capricious. But at the other end, human beings have the potential to be angelic - sensitive, enlightened, and caring. Ramadan is here to bring out the latter. The pangs of hunger and the parchedness of thirst drive home a consciousness of purpose like nothing else.
For thirty days, one is very aware of his or her relationship with God. It is intimate, no one but you and God really knows if you're actually going without. The meaning of dedication is brought to a visceral level. Disciplining the soul to distance itself from animal passion lightens its being and lifts it away from the heavy, opaque, materiality of its existence and toward something more ethereal.
The thirty days of Ramadan are divided into thirds. The first third, we are told in the teachings, is "compassion". The generosity of God in the lessons to be learned and rewards and blessings to be accrued at the opening of this month are without doubt merciful. But one also learns compassion. It is difficult for anyone, whether they be wealthy or otherwise, not to gain a window, however discrete and temporary, on to the suffering of others.
If Ramadan is observed properly, a sense of gratitude is engendered, followed by a motivation to relieve the suffering of others. Our responsiveness to the plight of the flood victims in neighboring Pakistan is currently serving as a "key performance indicator" of how well we're observing Ramadan. This week, we have entered into the second third of the month; the one whose over-arching theme is forgiveness.
The Way of Islam is premised upon forgiveness. The acceptance of the sinner is foundational to the religion itself. The Prophet Mohammed said: "Every child of Adam is given to sin; and the best of those who sin are those who repent." It is in Ramadan that Allah invites us to find that repentance, and He offers forgiveness in return. Each and every one of us comes to Ramadan with baggage to atone for and we all hope that Allah will accept us, despite our religious blemishes and spiritual shortcomings.
As such, we ourselves should be forgiving people. We should be accepting and tolerant of the wayward transgressor; disapproving of sin while not shutting out the person afflicted with it. The objective of Islam is not to make the believer a judgemental person. Remember that it was the Muslims who were the victims of the Inquisition. It would be counter-intuitive for the Muslim to become the inquisitor.
The Way of Islam has something different to offer the world. Instead of a judgemental religion, Islam offers a shift in focus toward the narration of the individual's personal journey toward spiritual ascent and purification. Islam is about individuals refining themselves, disciplining their appetites, and ridding their egos from the handicaps and shortcomings that retard spiritual progress. It is from here that Muslims seek to secure an environment that is conducive to spiritual growth. It is from here that Muslims seek a place free of unnecessary obstacles to purification and upward momentum.
Forgiveness abounds in Ramadan and makes its rounds. Let us all see what we can do to be part of that. Jihad Hashim Brown is director of research at the Tabah Foundation. He delivers the Friday sermon at the Maryam bint Sultan Mosque in Abu Dhabi.