By Ayah McKhail
First-year GCM student Fatima Abbas awoke well before fajr (Arabic for dawn) in order to have suhoor (Arabic for pre-dawn meal) on the first day of Ramadan. In the early hours of that special morning, her roommates at Pitman Hall were exposed to one of the Islamic holy month’s many rituals. Abbas’s roommates emerged enlightened and intrigued-especially upon learning that Muslims sustain the fast for a full month, in addition to abstaining from sexual activity and smoking until sundown.
Abbas admits that some people she’s spoken to liken fasting to a form of “torture,” yet she’s quick to counter their arguments. “You’re so disciplined when you fast and it has many benefits. You’re especially conscious of your exchanges with people and you’re constantly aware of what you’re doing and you begin to appreciate everything so much more.”
While Ramadan, the ninth month of the lunar Islamic calendar is widely associated with fasting, adherents of the faith attest that fasting from dawn until sundown is only one aspect of the many elements associated with this time of deep personal reflection.
|The Five Pillars of Islam: The Foundation of Muslim Life|
Source: Islam 101
Fasting is obligatory for Muslims. Islam’s sacred book, the Qur’an states: “O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint.” (2:183).
In addition to this, fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam, which when carried out accordingly, exemplify one’s testament to true faith and piety.
Oula Alaoui, who’s in her third year of Computer Engineering, experiences a strong connection to her faith when she fasts. “There’s a sense of closeness one feels with God during Ramadan and fasting is something devoted Muslims will do,” said Alaoui. “For example, some people pray just to show off. With fasting, you can’t do that.”
In fact, each day, Muslims must declare their intention of fasting by saying: “I intend to fast for this day in order to perform my duty towards Allah in the month of Ramadan.”
Subsequently, at sunset, the fast is broken with the following words: “O Allah! I have kept the fast for your sake and believe in you. I put in you my trust and break my fast with the food provided by you.” Fasting is an ancient practice rooted in history.
Adherents of the two other monotheistic religions, Judaism and Christianity, practice fasting to varying degrees. For example, in Judaism, Yom Kippur is a designated day to fast, as is the period of Lent for Catholics.
Traditionally, fasting has been a commonly used form of ascetic and penitential practice, carried out for the purpose of purifying the person or of atoning for sins. Ahmed Arshi, who’s in his final year of Industrial Engineering, in addition to being the president of the Muslim Students Association at Ryerson, says that the lessons one learns from fasting are numerous.
“You learn to control desire and temptation and it gives us insight into whether we control our bodies, or whether our bodies control us,” said Arshi. “Ramadan represents a time where you can really change your life around.”
Ramadan is an important time of year for Muslims worldwide. The revelations received by the prophet Mohammed from God occurred over a 23-year period and began during this holy month in the year AD 610.
The Islamic faith places a great emphasis on social justice; the fast is carried out mainly for Muslims to gain insight into the stark realities of hunger and starvation that have blighted parts of the globe and to empathize with people who experience this on a daily basis.
Living in a culture of excess and massive consumption as we do in Canada, such an experience can stir the soul unlike anything else and can be absolutely humbling.
Ramadan also eradicates class distinctions and Muslims around the world feel a sense of unity amidst their brothers and sisters who are partaking in this incredible feat together.
Imran Ally, who’s an Imam (Arabic for spiritual leader/Islamic scholar) at the Taric Mosque in North York, explained that many people spend more time at the mosque during Ramadan to soul search and to devote time to praying. “It’s an intense period of time where Muslims reconnect with their faith to serve God almighty,” said Ally. “We’re seeing representation from all age groups here, from the very young to the very old who aren’t sure if they’re going to be around for the next Ramadan.”
Ally acknowledges that carrying out the fast in a predominately Islamic society such as Morocco or Malaysia, where the lifestyle is more conducive to the obligations of Ramadan, can make a difference in how Muslims view the holy month.
For example, shops are closed during praying times and Muslims hear the adthan (the Muslim call to prayer) echo from the minarets and people of other faiths refrain from eating in public out of respect for those carrying out the fast.
However, Ally thinks there’s a great deal of potential for Muslims living in Canada to learn a lot through their experiences of fasting here. “God put us here for a reason and a lot of our colleagues, be it in the workplace or at school, are very understanding,” said Ally.
“They make provisions for Muslims who are fasting and it’s very much appreciated.”