As the sun sets on a cool June evening, Muslims across the UK prepare to break their fast. The eating of sweet dates from across the Middle East and drinking of cool water is a hallmark of this evening meal. This year in the UK, the abstention from food and drink beginning from the first thread of light at dawn till the sun sets, stretches to eighteen hours. The ninth month in the Islamic calendar, Ramadan, is one of the most spiritually uplifting times for a Muslim. It is often asked how refraining from eating and drinking leads to closeness with The Creator - to diminish fasting to time check starvation is somewhat missing the point. The meaning behind the month goes beyond the outermost physical acts of not eating or drinking, and instead is focused internally within one's mind and heart.
From time to time, my stomach might ache out of hunger, but this only serves as a reminder that I am fasting for a purpose. Sabran, ya nafsi - 'Patience, my soul' I tell myself. The Arabic term used to describe patience, is emphasised during these times. The emptiness of my stomach allows me to focus my thoughts and prayers on those for whom an absence of food is an every-day reality. For those who have no food, sunset or no sunset, hunger pangs are as much a part of daily life as breathing and blinking. The fact that people across the world can find themselves in such circumstances, and still have an unshakable love for The Creator and a purity of intention, is a testament to their Taqwa, or God-consciousness. My recognition of their hardship, and my gratefulness for the comparative ease bestowed upon me are a poignant reminder. Calamities come as a gift from Allah, they serve a purpose, and are there as humbling reminders that you cannot be without the remembrance of Allah.
Ramadan is one of the year's most beautiful times. It's both a reminder of our blessings and a form of spiritual fulfilment and replenishment we need after a year away. With the right focus on its essence, we shall find our faith renewed, our hearts calmed and our identities redefined. This month speaks to each of us differently. Muslims arrive at the same destination -Ramadan - at the end of a variety of paths. Our histories and piety are our own, and that we come together during this month is the beauty of Islam. The past, no matter what it entailed, is firmly in the past. Ramadan brings an abundance of motivation. It brings opportunities to reflect, and to change - to grow. If we set ourselves goals, that in every action we perform, we remain conscious of the might and majesty of Allah, we will find an indescribable peace within ourselves.
A scholar of antiquity, Junayd of Baghdad relates the following.
'The Creator said to his Beloved Prophet (may peace and blessings be upon him); Oh Muhammad! Here is the key to the riches of this world! Take what you will and be glad of it!
Muhammad (may peace and blessings be upon him) replied 'Oh my Lord, I desire it not! Keep me instead one day hungry and one day fed, for that is enough for me.'
May we all benefit from the blessings this month brings!