Today is the first day of Ramadan.
Ramadan is an Islamic event during which Muslims fast from sunup to sundown for a full lunar cycle (a little less than a month). In general, they abstain from consuming anything during daylight, including food, water, or any other material meant to fill the flesh. This is not meant to be a punishment, but rather a purging of the soul, a cleansing of the body, and a refillment of the spirit. The signals of hunger, thirst, and craving sent during fasting are designed as a constant reminder of those who are less fortunate, those who have not, those who go hungry every day through no choice or fault of their own. Many Muslims attempt to read the Qur'an all the way through, but the focus is very much on knowing who you are, what you are capable of, and what is realistic. In Islam, unlike Christianity or Judaism, fasting is a core tenant (or pillar) of spirituality, and observation of Ramadan is required for all those physically capable. Ending in Eid ul-Fitr (or the 'breaking of the fast'), the sighting of the new moon, Ramadan is a time to grow spiritually, as a family, and as a community.
I am not Muslim. My family is not Muslim. Most of my friends are not Muslim. I do not live in Mecca. I have never been with 100 feet of a Mosque.
I am American. I am a practicing Christian. I do not understand Islam in its entirety.
This year, I am observing Ramadan.
This does not come out of some misguided attempt to become more worldly. This does not come out of a challenge to my personal faith or spirituality (although such things are not necessarily unhealthy). This is about the experience. The experience has been explained to me before to be like the excitement of Christmas Eve. Personally, I feel like there was either a serious translational error there or that person never experienced a Christmas Eve before. How can someone compare the anticipation of not eating or drinking during daytime for 30 days to waking up to your house getting broken into and tons of really cool, really expensive stuff left underneath a tree that you drug into your living room 3 weeks ago for no other reason than looming over said stuff?
Regardless of the probability, that correlation between the experiences is there. To me, that only says how powerful Ramadan and its fulfilling sense of community, piety, spirituality, and generosity are to compare to the endorphins a child's body receives at the mere thought of gifts.
Ramadan is a highly personal 'quest,' if you will. There are very few rules, and many practicing Muslims do different things. As a Christian observing Ramadan, here are the principles I have decided to follow for my own Ramadan:
-Fasting: No consumption of anything designed for the flesh (all foods, water, sex, etc) from sunup to sundown. In Rwanda, that will be something like from 5am to 6:30pm.
-Fasting of the limbs: My hands should not do evil, my feet should not take me to bad places, my tongue should speak nothing ill of myself or others. This is not restricted to daylight hours.
-Spiritual Growth: My thoughts and reflections should guide me towards a better understanding of my God and my faith
-The Bible: I will read the Bible. From start to finish. Not just the New Testament, but the whole thing. THE WHOLE 1200 PAGE BIBLE.
-Mental Clarity: Abstain from impure thoughts.
-Alcohol: No alcohol during daylight hours as well as a reduction of occurrences and amount consumed during night hours.
-Community: Significant increase in actions designed to create and foster communities. This is saying quite a bit, given the fact that I'm a Peace Corps Volunteer.
-Understanding: Develop a more detailed and in-depth understanding of the world's major religions with specific emphasis on Islam as well as its connection and relationship to Christianity.
This is not an attempt to live as a Muslim for a month. This is not a 'translation' of Ramadan into Christendom. This IS Ramadan. The only thing that's different is my spirituality (which, honestly, is different for each Muslim as well) and which Holy Book I take my faith from. During my initial research of Ramadan in preparation to making this decision, I came across many websites about Christians taking the month of Ramadan to pray that Muslims find the clarity of God and Jesus Christ. I disagree. Prayer, spirituality, and your religious savior are HIGHLY personal things. What any person believes is between them and God. I would (and do) pray that every person in this world can know the life and love of Jesus. I would never pray that this happens against their own urging. A person COMES to their Savior. They are not BROUGHT to their Savior. Their relationship with their God is theirs and theirs alone, whether it's based out of a book written in Arabic, Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, or English. Whether that book preaches the teachings of Allah and Muhammad or Jesus of Nazareth, God, and the Apostles.
Many Muslims believe that Islam is a continuation, or an evolution, of Christianity, just as Christianity is a continuation of Judaism. While I'm not about to get into who's right (because that's not the point), the concept and spirit of Ramadan is something that neither Christianity nor Judaism have. Is it not possible that the idea of Ramadan can be naturally applied to Christian thought and ideology?
My decision to observe Ramadan was not made lightly. I have never attempted to fast. Ever. Now I'm going to be doing it for a whole month. Also, school break also happens to start today. Meaning I will out of a structured job until September. On top of all that, I have my Close of Service conference with the other 54 members of my intake groups next week. It will be quite interesting sitting in sessions when I cannot have a beer, let alone a bottle of water or a meal, until the sun goes down. Luckily, I am not doing this alone. I have my own pillar. His name is Jed.
Some of you may remember Jed as the oddball that used to burst into room singing rap songs at the top of his well-tuned lungs. Well, he still does that. What's changed is that we tend to do it together more often than not now. I do believe there is a video out there somewhere of me playing Green Day's 'Good Riddance' on the guitar while sitting on top of Jed's shoulder as he sang in an ear-piercing falsetto. It was a Tall Doctor moment straight out of Scrubs
I digress. Jed is also observing Ramadan (as he has for the last, oh, seven years). When it comes to the logistics of how this whole fasting thing works, Jed is my man. He is also an incredible person and a great source of information on 2 or 3 world religions. And I'm not just being this flattering because I cc'd him on this email…
In order to stay healthy, I'm going to have to wake up early. Those of you who know me know that this is NOT something I like to do. I've been called many things in the last 25 years, but 'morning person' has never really been one of them. However, if I do not rise before the Sun, that means no breakfast. While my breakfast is usually more aptly named 'lunch,' I still like to be able to eat after sleeping for more than a few hours…
So here I go. Expect a higher frequency of blogs from me over the next month. In part because of Ramadan, but also in part because this month will help shape the next few years of my life.
-Don't Forget To Be Awesome
Sent from my BlackBerry® smartphone powered by MTN.