Tonight, with the new crescent moon, the Ramadan fast begins for Muslims around the world. Since it occurs in August this year, the fast is longer in the Northern Hemisphere than most years. Aziz Junejo discusses the benefits in The Seattle Times:
... This 1,400-year-old ritual is a reminder to practice self-restraint, increase one's spirituality and appreciate God's countless blessings.
Throughout time, all of the Abrahamic faiths have been instructed by God to fast as an act of devotion.
God says:"O you who believe, fasting has been prescribed for you as it has been prescribed to those before you in order that you may attain taqwa (God-consciousness)." Quran 2:183
Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam observed on the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar when Muslims are required to fast. It is the month during which the Quran was sent down from God as a guide to mankind.
Abstaining from food, drink and sexual relations from sunrise to sunset protects Muslims from sin and purifies our hearts and minds.
This year, the lunar calendar has pushed Ramadan deeper into August, something that occurs only once about every 33 years, so this year, local Muslims will be fasting for 16 hours every day.
I have never taken fasting as a hardship. It's a powerful spiritual discipline meant for God alone. For me, it is quite private in some respects as I work each year to heighten my own spirituality.
Giving up comforts such as that midmorning cappuccino or midday granola snack might be challenging to a non-Muslim, but the discipline and confidence that come with fasting make it more and more enjoyable with each passing day.
I've fasted since I was a child, and the practice has continually strengthened my self-control and improved my ability to make better choices and avoid things that are not good for me. It promotes the acute God consciousness called taqwa, which reminds me to more caring, sharing and compassionate throughout the day.
But what I appreciate most during Ramadan is that sense of gratefulness I feel. Each Ramadan makes me an ever more thoughtful human. Fasting makes me more conscious of the world's countless poor and helps me see more clearly our society's waste and extravagance. Sometimes it makes me sad.
Twice a day, Mehdi Noorbaksh puts aside professional duties and turns to God. In the privacy of his office at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology, he unrolls a rug, bows in the direction of Mecca and prays.
Like millions of Muslims, Noorbaksh prays five times a day, but during Ramadan — Islam’s holy month — with deepened devotion. “It’s a special month,” said Noorbaksh, an associate professor of international affairs and a Muslim scholar. “Nobody can fight. Nobody can wage war. Muslims have to be very peaceful. They have to participate in an act of charity and be very affectionate. You cannot lie or gossip. This is a month of purification.
Some Muslims have experienced discrimination in locating and building their houses of worship and community centers. All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena recently wrote in support of The Islamic Center in Temecula Valley:
August 8, 2010
To the Members of the Islamic Center of Temecula Valley:
During our service each Sunday, we greet each other, and say, “Peace be with you.” We greet you in peace and say, “As-Alamu Alaykum.”
We are parishioners at All Saints Church, Pasadena, and write to you to express our deep sadness at what your religious community has experienced these past few weeks. We reach out to extend a message of solidarity, friendship and peace.
We grieve at how Islamophobia, especially since 9/11, has so deeply impacted the Muslim community. We know that members of your Muslim community have been targets of prejudice, and that you have experienced gross misrepresentations of your faith. We also grieve for those who are driven by anger and misunderstanding, and whose actions hurt and divide. At All Saints Church, our Rector, Ed Bacon, speaks about the importance of living in the house of love rather than in the house of fear. We write to you from that house of love, to reach out to our brothers and sisters, all of us children of one loving and compassionate God.
We have been heartened by the outpouring of support for you from a range of community and faith groups. We pledge to you that we will work to promote interfaith understanding and respect, and to do all that we can to help transform the human race into the human family.