INTO THE ART AND HEART OF FASTING
by RIAD SALOOJEE
Saloojee is executive director of the council on American-Islamic
Relations based in Ottawa. He's the
author of We've
Seen This Plot Before.
* * * * * * * * * *
a boy growing up, I remember Ramadan by my incessant questioning
– “Is it time to break fast yet?” –
and my growling stomach. And no one made a break for food as
fast as I did when sunset rolled around. Poutine never, ever
looked so good.
ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, Ramadan is one of
Islam’s five fundamental pillars. Fasting was always taught
to me with ritual precision: abstaining from food, drink and
intimate relations from dawn to dusk. Ironically, Ramadan is
most known, whether by Muslims or others, for its exotic culinary
delicacies the world over. It’s also not one of the Muslim
world’s best-kept secrets that in some countries Ramadan
is best identified by an inverted ‘work’ schedule:
sleep during the day; gorge at night. Call it our own unique
circumvention of God’s law: fasting through feasting.
however, has nothing to do with feasting or the lack thereof.
The intent and spirit of Ramadan lies in a human transformation,
with hunger and thirst being merely the first stage, the external
dimension, in a month-long inner journey of struggle and discovery.
begin with, fasting is not about hunger and thirst. The Prophet
Muhammed taught that God has no need for the hunger and thirst
of someone who hurts others, violates their dignity and usurps
their rights. The fasting of the stomach must be matched by
the fasting of all of the limbs. The eyes, ears, tongue, hands
and feet all have their respective fasts to undergo. The tongue’s
temptations, for example – lies, backbiting, slander,
vulgarity, and senseless argumentation – must be challenged
and curbed for the integrity of the fast.
consciousness of one’s behaviour and vigilance of one’s
actions are meant to lead to the most profound dimension of
fasting: the fasting of heart in continual focus on, and attachment
to, the Divine. It is this experience and in this state that
Ramadan becomes a source of peace and solace.
is thus meant to impart a sense of what it means to be truly
human. We are more than the sum of our parts. We are more than
mere material creatures or a series of conditioned responses.
Different traditions have different names for it –- soul,
spirit, heart -- but all argue that we possess an essence beyond
this four dimensional world. It is perhaps this recognition
that accounts for the fact that fasting is a common feature
in the practices of other faith traditions.
true fruit of fasting is a rich inner life, embellished with
the cultivation of values such as justice, generosity, kindness
forgiveness, mercy and empathy. And it is these latter values
that are indispensable to all communal life.
do we find it so difficult to connect with others? The world
has shrunk but so, it seems, has our empathy for one another.
One reason is that knowing about hunger is different from knowing
hunger. Empathy is not an intellectual equation; it is a human
experience. As spectators in our ivory towers, our hardness
of heart often springs from our distance to the human condition
of others. The poor, sick, disenfranchised, oppressed –-
we have rarely walked a mile in their shoes, or even just a
few footsteps. How could true civic responsibility be otherwise?
1.2 billion Muslims fast concurrently speaks to the universality
of fasting in transcending the barriers of geography, color
and race. For fasting to be truly beneficial, however, its benefits
must extend beyond the fraternal ties of Muslims and must extend
to forging a common humanity with others.
an abrupt break in our annual routine, Ramadan will come and
go with such stealth that we cannot but be reminded of our mortality.
What is it that we value and why? The food and drink, previously
indulged in with a sense of necessity, was reduced with no dire
consequence. Habits, customs, obsessive behaviours like smoking,
too, were curtailed with relative ease in the face of a higher
calling. How much of me is really an algorithm of consumption?
What does it mean to be a global citizen living in Canada, a
land of tremendous privilege?
the ritual of fasting may take 30 days, its true destination
is our infinite journey. May we hunger to find the gold within
us; may we hunger to discover our heart.
may write to Riad Saloojee HERE .