July 19, 2012

Ramadan Mubarak

Filed under: Uncategorized — by Lisa Meeder Turnbull @ 7:42 pm

There are times when feeling homesick takes me by surprise—a familiar sound, a smell, a long-forgotten memory awakened by a random remark.

Then there are the predictable moments—a special event, an anniversary, a milestone.

The beginning of the ninth month of the lunar Islamic calendar, a day or two after the astronomical new moon, is one time when I can count on a sense of longing for the life of my South African village. It’s a day that one can only roughly predict. And because of that, there is something thrilling about hearing the news that the crescent has been visually confirmed, the observance of Ramadan has begun.

Why is this so exciting for me? First of all, I love the inherent contradiction in fasting to celebrate abundance. I love the notion of abstaining for the purpose of making oneself aware of how much one has as a person of faith, of recalibrating one’s appreciation of that which sustains. The inner worked that Ramadan demands is substantial. I want to learn from that in my own spiritual practice.

Second, I love it that Ramadan is lived out loud. It’s transparent, communal, and has its own rhythm. The cycle of daily fasting, prayer, reading and study is, again, demanding. But it’s not burdensome; it’s joyful. Shopkeepers close early to pray, read, and study together before the sun goes down. When the fast is broken each night, it’s broken together, in homes, in extended families, in neighborhoods and community centers. Abundance is present in the physical sharing of food and in the attitude of plenty and blessing that invites the poor, the stranger, the lonely to the feast.

The third thing that I love about Ramadan is that, while it does demand a great deal of inner awareness, it also insists on an external engagement that brings word and prayer to life. Zakat, the obligatory proportional giving that is one of the pillars of Islam, is ramped up even more during Ramadan. In this month, the faithful typically give both a larger portion, if not all, of the required zakat, as well as a voluntary offering of sadaqa, an amount above and beyond their proportional obligation. Sharing from a place of abundance is not limited to money; it includes offerings of food, clothing, and other essential items in the belief that good deeds are more handsomely rewarded in Ramadan than in other months and that both parties receive a blessing when one helps another break his fast.

And then, of course, there’s Eid. Eid ul-Fitr is the feast that marks the end of Ramadan. It is a joyful, colorful, exuberant time of gifts, and sweets, and banquets, and new clothes. It is forbidden to fast on Eid—having gone to that inner place of fasting and prayer, there is a balance in permitting oneself to receive abundance as well. I loved seeing the obvious pleasure that families took in marking this festal day, in balancing their fast with representations of God’s lavish generosity.

And so tonight when I take the dog out one last time before bed, I will look to the sky. I will notice the moon. I will remember the friends and neighbors who await the sighting of the crescent. I will think of the things their faith has taught me, the ways in which I’m stronger in my faith for having lived side by side with theirs. I will silently wish them Ramadan Mubarak.


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