By Muneeb Nasir
There is great anticipation in the air - families are making plans, children are getting excited, homes are being cleaned and spruced up, special foods and ingredients are being purchased to welcome a most noble guest, Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, set to begin next week.
In homes, villages, towns, and cities around the world, Muslims will be responding to the call of the One God, Allah:
“You who believe, fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may be mindful of God.” (Qur'an, 2:183).
Fasting in the month of Ramadan is a big commitment and it is not quite that easy for those who are not initiated into the art of fasting.
Ramadan is a month of abrupt changes.
For a month, the fasting person takes a break from their usual lives to return to meaning and essentials, breaking with their habits of consumption, and interrupting the rhythms of their daily life.
The abrupt changes brought about in Ramadan are an invitation to renew one’s connection to God - ‘so that you may be mindful of God’ - and to transformation.
At the heart of our consumer world, where we are used to easy access to anything we wish, and where we are driven by individualism in our daily lives, this month requires from us that we come back to the center and the meaning of our life.
Ramadan is asking us to ask ourselves:
What about God in my life?
What meaning have I given to my life?
We become so immersed in the life of this world that we lose the awareness required to live wholly recognizing the Divine.
Zoologists tell us that it is unlikely that creatures deep in the sea have any kind of awareness of what it means to be wet.
But the irony is not restricted to fish.
The greater the immersion, the less aware we become of it.
This is an observation generally agreed upon among religions, that there is indeed an immersion in the fleeting realm, and it’s nearly impossible to escape it without help.
Immersion in the fleeting world can lead to unawareness of the Divine.
And after a while, we’re disabled from even noticing.
We end up going through life in a trance and in an autopilot mode.
In today’s world, sociologists tell us of a phenomenon they refer to as ‘urban trance’ – people on the streets who are less likely to notice, greet or offer assistance to others – they are busy texting or scrolling away on their smartphones or plugged into some device.
This social autism is a consequence of technology’s invasion into our daily lives.
We’re so wired to technology that we’re disconnecting from who we’re wired to be – kind, compassionate and empathetic human beings who take interest in others, who serve others, and are grateful to God and to others.
Ramadan comes every year to help us – it is a knock on the door.
It is an invitation to walk out of our cave.
It is an invitation to come out of this trance-like state.
A few years ago, the then Toronto Star columnist, Rick Salutin described his experience of fasting in Ramadan.
He wrote: “For a few days this week, my son and I had some Muslim Arab kids from the Mideast, ages 8 and 12, up at the cottage. They’ve been in Canada for two years. Since it was Ramadan, we decided to fast with them.”
Salutin describes his experience of fasting: “It induced a kind of — I don’t know the precise word — quietude, even in young kids. You husband your resources, consciously and/or unconsciously. Almost by default, a sort of meditative mood sets in.”
Rick Salutin concluded that in today’s world people could all do with “a dose of Ramadan" (under another name) as it might restore some calm and an ability to think rationally.”