So I’ve decided to participate in Ramadan this year.
For those that don’t really know what that means, I’ll do my best to explain my understanding of it. In short, Ramadan is the Muslim tradition of fasting. Islam has five main pillars: there is no god but Allah, pray five times a day, charitable giving, fasting, and pilgrimage. There are three different types of fasting: ritual fasting, fasting as repentance, and ascetic fasting. Ramadan, therefore, is a month of ritual fasting. Several things happen (errr…don’t happen) during Ramadan. First and foremost, there is to be no eating OR drinking while the sun is up. This large sacrifice is meant to redirect your thoughts to prayer… prayers of thanksgiving, asking forgiveness, and remembering the needy. There is also a great focus on community during this month. Meals are to be shared with others, and everyone is encouraged to try to love and respect one another more and better. Apparently, the good that is acquired by fasting can be destroyed by five things: lies, slander, denouncing someone behind their back, a false oath, and greed or covetousness. Many Muslims read the entire Qu’ran during the month in addition to spending several hours in prayer. This is kind of a hodge-podge of facts, but in essence, the point is to spend less time worrying about every day life and more time focusing on faith and prayer.
So what does this mean for me?
Well, the first day of Ramadan in North America is September 2nd, so here we go. My housemate Kristen agreed to fast with me. We’ll be waking up before sunrise every day (around 6am) and eating breakfast and chugging water. During the day, as usual, we both work 9-5 jobs. We’ll return home and partake in our typical house dinner, around 7:30pm. That’s the straightforward part. There are several other decisions that need to be made as well. How often am I going to pray? What does prayer even mean? Should I read the Qu’ran? Should I read the Bible? I haven’t really answered all of these questions yet, and I’m hoping the answers will come. I do know that Kristen purchased an English translation of the Qu’ran, so I think I’ll read parts of it at the very least.
Why the heck would I choose to fast for a month, and why a Muslim tradition?!
Good question. First of all, ever since my summer in Senegal last year, I’ve been quite intrigued by Islam. I saw people pray at the weirdest times in the weirdest places… in the most peaceful environments and amidst chaos. As a Christian, I tend to pray when it is most convenient for ME. When I wake up, before meals, when I go to bed… and that’s all if I remember. I suppose if Christians had set prayer times, we would find ourselves praying in a whole host of different situations! So, for me, the idea of sacrifice, prayer, loving more and better, and exploring other faiths sounds like a great opportunity for growth. There are also many reasons why right now is a good time to do this. One reason is my living situation. Doing Ramadan in college is HARD. There’s not a good place to eat dinner every night once the sun goes down, and you’re lucky if your roommates are around to provide community. Here, I will be eating a delicious dinner every night with my five housemates, all of whom are supportive and caring. The other primary reason why now seems like a good time for Ramadan is that I am working with and for the homeless and poor this year. As Lutheran Volunteer Corps volunteers, we’re called to live simply that others might simply live (you know the phrase). What’s more, I’ve been asked to spend the month of September volunteering at several different non-profit organizations so that I can later set incoming groups up with service project options. This will be a wonderful – yet challenging – month of prayer and service.
But as I explain all of this to you, I want to remind you that this is not about ME. I’m not looking for you to feel sorry for me or proud of me or even pat me on the back. Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) that when we fast, we are not to boast, but rather fast in secret. So I appreciate your support throughout the month, but I encourage you to consider ways you can challenge yourself to grow!