Ramadan A Time to Self-enrichment

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Ramadan A Time to Self-enrichment

AREF ASSAF

Bergen RecordĀ  Op-Ed

Featured Daily Record Op-Ed, 9/8/2007

FOR ABOUT 30 day days starting today, my wife and I and our five children will wake up around 3 a.m. to consume a light breakfast, perform prayers, and, if possible, sneak in a quick nap before school chores take over. We will not consume any food or beverages until sunset. The evening dinner is more elaborate, and foods and desserts will abound.

At the end of Ramadan, a three-day festival begins and family visits will take up much of our time; the kids will receive gifts and many of us will have made our obligatory almsgiving to the poor — about 2.5 percent of our annual income.

Ramadan is the most important month of our Muslim calendar. It is a tremendous gift from God in so many ways. It can uplift us, empower us and turn around our situation individually and collectively. It is the spring season for the garden of Islam when dry grass can come back to life and flowers bloom.

But these benefits are not promised for lifeless and thoughtless rituals alone. They will be ours if our actions are informed by the message of Ramadan.

Today, the message of Ramadan tends to get drowned out by much louder voices of the pop culture that have an opposite message. We have become so accustomed to them that many of us remain enslaved to them.

The most important message of Ramadan is that we are not just body. We are body and soul. What makes us human beings and determines our value as human beings is the soul and not the body.

During Ramadan, we deprive the body to uplift the soul. We can understand its significance if we remember that the message of the materialistic, hedonistic global pop culture that has engulfed every Muslim land today — just like the rest of the world — is exactly the opposite. It says that body is everything, that the materialistic world is all that counts. This trash comes in such beautiful and enticing packages that we can hardly resist it. We equate this slavery with freedom. We consider this march to disaster as progress. And with every movement, we get further and deeper into the mire.

Ramadan is here to liberate us from all this. Take a break from the pop culture. Turn off the music and TV. Say goodbye to the endless and futile pursuit of happiness in sensory pleasures. Rediscover your inner self that has been buried deep under it. Reorient yourself. Devote your time to voluntary worship, to prayers and conversations with Allah. Reflect on the direction of your life and your priorities.

On the last day of one Sha’ban, the Islamic month before Ramadan, Prophet Muhammad gave a sermon about Ramadan. It is a very important sermon, khutbah, that we should carefully read before every Ramadan to prepare ourselves mentally for the sacred month.

It begins: “Oh people! A great month is coming to you. A blessed month. A month in which there is one night that is better than a thousand months. A month in which Allah has made it compulsory upon you to fast by day, and voluntary to pray by night.

Whoever draws nearer to Allah by performing any of the voluntary good deeds in this month shall receive the same reward as is there for performing an obligatory deed at any other time. And whoever discharges an obligatory deed in this month shall receive the reward of performing 70 obligations at any other time. It is the month of sabr (patience), and the reward for sabr is heaven.”

Today, unfortunately, another scene seems to be dominant in some parts of the Muslim world. Here Ramadan is the month of celebrations, shopping, fancy iftars (breaking of fast) at posh restaurants, entertainment, and gossip. People stay up at night, but not for worship; they while away that time watching TV or wandering in the bazaar. Ramadan here is more a month of feasting than fasting.

No one can take away our Ramadan from us; we just give it away ourselves. And if we realize the utter blunder we have made, we can take it back.

Aref Assaf is president of the American Arab Forum in Paterson.