Muslims all over the world have started observing the holy month of Ramadan this week.
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, believed to be when the Quran was revealed. It is a month steeped in prayer, fasting and charity for believers worldwide.
Where I live it has been only a day since the start of Ramadan. Already the air is imbued with a sense of calm and serenity. Overnight the pace of life has slowed dramatically during the day only to climb to a frenzied pace in the late evenings. Working hours for offices in both the government and private sectors have been reduced. While productivity at work dips, the evenings are at the opposite end of the pendulum swing. The post-sunset breaking of the fast is a communal affair with families and friends getting together for the Iftar meal. Restaurants, shops and malls remain open until well past midnight to accommodate post-Iftar outings. The city is abuzz with life and activity until the wee hours.
But aside from the frivolous aspects like great shopping deals and a laid-back work environment, there are so many reasons why I, as an expat and non-Muslim, love this season.
Ramadan is a month of fasting. Above all else my heart goes out to my Muslim brothers and sisters who fast from dawn until dusk daily. For someone who drinks 2-3 litres of water a day, the idea of not even a drop of water crossing your lips for 14 hours is unfathomable. And this in a region where temperatures are often soaring to 50 degrees Centigrade! You always expect the first day of the fast to be the hardest. Hunger, thirst, caffeine and nicotine withdrawal all conspire to bring on monumental headaches and general fatigue. And yet I have never in all my years here met anyone who complained or moaned their fate. In fact I have even had fasting Muslims encourage me to eat/drink in front of them, insisting that it did not bother them in the least!
Ramadan is a month of prayer. Often at work or when out and about it warms my heart to hear a quick whispered prayer escape the lips of a fasting Muslim. Even when preoccupied with the mundane tasks of daily life, the reason for the season does not depart them and their hearts and minds remain in a spirit of prayer.
Ramadan is a month of charity. Opportunities to give abound, with organizations and individuals alike scrambling to set up donation boxes and Iftar tents for the needy. Labor camps, that can go relatively unnoticed the rest of the year, are suddenly besieged with meals and care packages. It is a month of counting your blessings and sharing those blessings with the less fortunate.
Ramadan is a month that never fails to make me stop and take stock of my life. Maybe it is all the time I have on my hands. Maybe it is all the prayer and piety that is in the air. It is undeniable, inescapable and almost tangible. It is a time of the year when I can reflect on all that I am blessed with and make attempts to live a more purposeful life.
So to all of you who don’t observe Ramadan, I hope I have managed to convey at least an iota of how special this month really is. And to those of you who do… Ramadan Kareem!