Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
A Season of Self-conquest
By Muqtedar Khan
ccun.org, August 20, 2009
There's hidden sweetness in the stomach's emptiness.
lutes, no more, no less. If the soundbox
is stuffed full of anything,
If the brain and belly are burning clean
every moment a new song comes out of the fire. Jalaluddin Rumi on
fasting in Ramadan.
On Friday this week, hundreds of millions of
Muslims will start fasting for a month. They will abstain from eating or
drinking from dawn to dusk. They will stand for hours in prayers each
night to remember their Lord and express their gratitude to Him, seek His
forgiveness and aspire to come closer to Him.
Imagine a vast
crowd of hundreds of millions of Muslims – sorry didn’t mean to frighten
anybody – rushing headlong for a month in the same direction, seeking the
pleasure of their Lord and you will begin to get some idea of the Worlds
longest and biggest spiritual festival.
Fasting is one of the five
pillars of Islam. The Quran instructs that it’s purpose is to teach
Muslims self-restraint. The ritual involves systematic abstinence of
things normal to body, mind and spirit. From dawn to dusk the limits are
clear; no eating, no drinking, no sex, no fighting, no backbiting, no
lying, no anger, no arrogance, no pride, no despair. This is the ultimate
The point of the exercise for adult Muslims who are
healthy and able, is to develop a regimen of self-restraint and to
inculcate a capacity to, borrowing a term from Plato, control one’s
appetites. The hope is that this mandatory regimen will become a habit and
Muslims will spend the rest of the year in a state of high spiritual
The easy part of the month of Ramadan is the physical
part. After a week the body and the mind adjust and one rarely feels
hungry or thirsty for most of the day. The last couple of hours are always
tough, especially in the US where the days are long and the fasts last
from fifteen to sixteen hours.
The more difficult parts are the
one’s that demand spiritual discipline. The struggle to control one’s Id,
to master one’s anger and pride, to learn humility and to recognize the
insignificance of the self in comparison to the awesome majesty of God,
are qualities very difficult to master. It is not easy to become one with
God in one month.
Ramadan is also the month in which most of the
Muslim holy book –The Quran – was revealed. To celebrate the
revelation of the Quran, Muslims devote special prayers and try to find
time to reread it and to recommit to its teaching and its commandments.
After fasting all day, many men and women spend two to three hours every
night reciting the chapters of the Quran in either congregational or
Muslims believe that Ramadan is a blessed
month and the rewards for any good action is multiplied many times over.
Therefore much of the annual obligatory and optional charity giving
happens in Ramadan. This is a good time to do fund-raising if Muslim
donors are your target. Islam mandates obligatory giving of 2.5% of
accumulated or surplus wealth called Zakat, and many Muslims give it in
the month of Ramadan.
But nonetheless those who fast with genuine
dedication, those who struggle to conquer the self, those who fight to
control their bodies, those who give charity and those who exercise
humility experience a feeling of cleansing, of purification, which is
difficult to describe, but profoundly palpable.
At the end of
Ramadan, Muslims celebrate the festival called Eid. We break our fast
early in the morning, wear our best clothes, give as much charity as we
can and go to the mosque to offer special prayers. As one enters the
mosque one experiences a complex emotion of happiness and apprehension.
Happiness out of gratitude for being blessed with one more Ramadan and
apprehension because one is always wondering if what one offered God was
enough, was it accepted, was it worthy of one who is the Most Merciful and
Sometimes, there is a feeling of lightness, as
if the weight of impurities that one had been carrying and accumulating
all the yearlong has been lifted. Sometimes there is heaviness in the
heart and one prays for one more chance to maybe get it right the next
Muqtedar Khan is Director of Islamic Studies at the
University of Delaware and a Fellow of the Institute for Social Policy and
Dr. M. A. Muqtedar Khan
Director of Islamic Studies