By Khawlah Mian
For Muslim students, Ramadan is a time for learning. Most students say that not only does fasting teach them about their faith, but also about the world in which they live. But others say faith goes beyond the act of not eating — fasting must be a symbol to a bigger religious goal.
“It is the month when I can see the difference between right and wrong,” says Mohammed Raheel, a third-year electrical engineering student. Because Ramadan is the holiest month of the Islamic faith, it is the time of the year when Muslims are meant to be more aware of their commitment to the greater good of their communities.
Ramadan, the month that the Holy Qura’an was revealed to the prophet Mohammed, is observed during the ninth month of lunar calendar, a different schedule than the one thumbtacked to your wall.
“Fasting teaches me patience and makes me a stronger person. This is why I enjoy it so much,” says Ambreen Alam, who is in her third year of retail management.
“Fasting teaches me so many things,” add Farah Mir, a fourth-year information technology management student. “Control, tolerance, sacrifice, patience and belief.”
From just before the break of dawn until right after sunset, Muslims don’t eat, drink (both alcoholic and non), smoke, or have sex. It is believed that fasting cleanses the body — both in terms of health and spirit.
But for Zeeshan Dogar, a 23-year-old immigrant from Pakistan, Ramadan is not just about the action of fasting, but of the intention behind the action. He says he got in touch with what his religion meant to him two years ago.
“Let’s skip the melodramatic ‘and then I began to see incredible changes in my life’ track and simply address the Islamic calendar month of Ramadan.”
Dogar, a student at the DeVry Institute of Technology, says that it is intention that one is judged on, and not just concrete action. He compares it to stealing — if the intention to steal is strong, and the only reason one does not is the fear of being caught, then that strong intention will be taken into account, despite the fact that the person didn’t actually take anything.
“Fasting in Islam is to do with abstaining from the greatest desire of all, the desire to feed oneself (during) the process of which a person would begin to abstain from all other desires,” says Dogar.
“Fasting holds different meanings to different people,” he says. When fasting is a symbol of a larger spiritual meaning, Dogar says its impact is felt throughout all parts of a person’s existence.
“On a spiritual level, when I practice fasting the way it is full prescribed, I notice immediate changes in my personal habits, changes I would like to recruit permanently. I feel the discipline.”
That discipline is one of the key goals Muslims strive for and it’s believed that fasting is the way to get there, because it is being done with the hopes of attaining a closer bond to Allah.
For Sakheb Alim and Mohammad Fayaz, both in their second year of computer science, fasting is a lesson in world issues. “So many people are suffering from hunger (and) fasting teaches us what they are going through,” says Alim.
His friend Fayaz adds, “We should think about how the poor feel everyday.”
Fayaz also says that Ramadan gives him an excuse to learn — not only about Islam, but also what is happening in the world around him.
Another vital part of the religion is charity. As a pillar of Islam, believers are expected to think of the poor and donate to charities. In fact, people who are permanently exempt from fasting, the sick, the traveler, the breast-feeding mother, are all expected to make up for it by feeding a needy Muslim a meal each day.
Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam. It is a mandatory part of the religion for everyone who is physically able to do so. This sense of duty is what keeps some away from the kitchen cupboards during the days of Ramadan.
“It is one of five pillars, and that is why I fast,” says Sofia Adan, a first-year social work student. “It is one of that five pillars that hold up our religion, if you allow one pillar to topple, the entire faith will collapse.”
Fahad Malik, an engineering student, says “it is clear command (from Allah).”
“I don’t want to burn (in hell).” He says that he tries to fast everyday, but does not always do so. “Smoking is the only thing holding me back,” he says.
Smoking is prohibited in Ramadan, but only during the day while you are fasting. Despite the restrictions on eating, drinking, smoking and sexual activity, students are eager to fast.
Sophia Ali-Khan, and Rabia Ahmad, both studying graphic communications management say fasting is not only about following an integral part of the religion, but they say it allows them to serve their society better by forcing them to think about people who never have enough to eat any time of year.
“When we fast, and during the day we are thirsty, we know that come sunset we will have water to drink and food to eat. But what about the multitudes of people dying of starvation all over the world — they do not have that reassurance,” says Ali-Khan.
“I think that fasting is good for the individual and the community because what it gives the community is individuals who are disciplined, who know how to restrain themselves. During the course of the day, of course you have urges to go and grab a bite to eat. The whole point is to restrain oneself,” said Ahmed. She added that when she is fasting she feels a closer spiritual bond with Allah, as though she were in a special state.
According to some, Ramadan is a time to earn yourself the favour of Allah.
“I fast because this is the one month when I can gather the most blessings,” Raheel says. During the month of Ramadan, it is believed that every good deed awards 70 blessings instead of just one. Sabina Alli, a first-year journalism student, also says that Ramadan is a time to “wash away sins.”
“For every good deed I do during this month, I cleanse my soul and purify my heart,” she says.
The night that the holy Qura’an is believed to have been revealed to the prophet Muhammed is marked by Laylat-ul-Qadr, the night of power. Muslims gather in mosques, aware that this night has the potential of being able to wipe their past sins from their lives, depending on the sincerity of your intentions.
During the month, Muslims congregate at mosques to read one-30th of the Qura’an everyday, so that the scriptures have been completely re-read by Eid. Eid ul Fitr is the festival that marks the end of the month of fasting, during which elders give out monetary gifts to younger Muslims. The festivals are marked by families opening their doors to friends who visit to celebrate Eid and sample elaborate feasts of sweetmeats and savoury samplings.
With files from Fatima Najm
1422 (2001-2002) Islamic Calendar:
Muharram [trans: Forbidden] March 26- April 24
Safar [trans: Empty or Yellow] April 25- May 23
Rabia Awal [trans: Frist spring] May 24- June 22
Rabia Thani [trans: Second spring] June 23- July 21
Jumaada Awal [trans: To respect] Sept. 19- Oct. 17
Rajab [trans: To respect] Sept. 19- Oct. 17
Sha’ban[trans: To spread and distribute] Oct. 18- Nov. 16
Ramadan [trans: Parched thirst] Nov. 17- Dec. 15
Shawwal [trans: To be light and vigorous] Dec. 16- Jan. 14
Dhul-Qi’dah [trans: The month of rest] Jan. 15- Feb. 13
Dhul-Hijah [trans: The month of Hajj] Feb. 14- March 14
Exemptions from Fasting
- Children who haven’t hit puberty
- People who are mentally ill and not responsible for their actions
- The elderly
- The sick
- Travelers on long journeys
- Pregnant women and nursing mothers
- Women who are menstruating
Those who are temporarily unable to fast must make up the missed days at another time or feed the poor.