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Today’s Solutions: July 12, 2024

With Ramadan approaching on 15th October, this can be an invitation to anybody who feels the need for “profound soul searching”. A woman describes her initiation into the annual fasts.

Cyntha Gonzalez-Kabil | October 2004 issue

With Ramadan approaching on 15th October, this can be an invitation to anybody who feels the need for “profound soul searching”. A woman describes her initiation into the annual fasts.

Cyntha Gonzalez-Kabil | October 2004 issue

My initiation into Ramadan came a few years ago. I was invited from France to Morocco by friends to participate in the fasting and social rituals of this special time, the ninth lunar month of the Islamic calendar.

On the first day, as my energy waned in the last hours of the sunrise-to-sunset fast, my friends encouraged me on that the day’s challenge would soon be over. This family’s holiday specialty, Harira, a hearty lentil soup, awaited us, along with the customary dates, warmed milk, hard-boiled eggs to be dipped in cumin powder and a variety of Moroccan traditional sweets only made for this momentous month. I was warned, however, not to overindulge when the opportunity came. The meaning of Ramadan is not only in the fasting, but also in how the fast is broken. The Prophet Mohammed broke his fast with only a cup of milk and one date.

Since this initiation into Ramadan I have participated in each of the fasts, of which I have fond memories. And now a new Ramadan is approaching, I’m looking forward to stick to the promise I made myself: to participate in each Ramadan to come—though I am not a Muslim.

Recently, my family and I came to live in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where during the Ramadan period restaurants are closed during the day. This is where I, for the first time, experienced what it means to be entirely supported by the society in the practice of fasting. This experience has helped me to gain a more profound understanding of the Ramadan. And I came to the conclusion, that in exploring different spiritual paths through the years, nothing I have found helps people explore their spiritual natures so deeply and authentically as Ramadan.

Before coming to the UAE, I would find myself in my Paris flat, tuned into the local Arabic FM station. In the waning, muted light of those chilly days, I would await the cannon’s boom over those French radio waves signalling the breaking of the fast. I would be in a silent, solemn state of resigned hunger. It would gently dawn on me that Muslims in Algiers in Algeria, Bamako in Mali, Brussels in Belgium, Baghdad in Iraq, and my own neighbourhood were all in more of less the same state. My heart opened. Fears, misunderstandings and tensions in regard to Islam melted away in the quiet knowing of the One.

To pass a day—from sunrise to sundown—with no food eaten, no drink sipped, or no sexual relations is a test. To not allow words of scorn or judgement to pass one’s lips, and to attempt to refrain from thoughts that remove oneself from God-consciousness, is an amazing feat. To know one is doing it for only one month makes it seem slightly less of an insurmountable challenge. To know that your entire community supports you in practising such spiritual muscle flexing is wonderfully encouraging. To be hungry in the late afternoon, weak, edgy, ready to snap at the next person that says anything, and to then hold back, demands something of oneself. That something for me has been an inner strength that I cultivate day after day, the entire month of Ramadan. Later in the year, I am able to call upon this and know that I can respond differently to certain aggravating stresses.

The Ramadan period begins with much anticipation of families and friends gathering together in the joy and solidarity of this fast. The first three days are the most trying, in part because of caffeine-withdrawal headaches. The stored toxins in the liver begin to release themselves and circulate in the blood stream. As those toxins are no longer ingested, the body can rest and begin the process of elimination. Physically, one begins to feel fresh, purified, cleansed. A wonderful, crystal-clear lucidity then takes over the mind. It is much the same process in the emotional department.

Over these last several years, I have come to welcome the rigor of Ramadan as a spiritual discipline and an emotional confrontation. With a few years’ experience now, I have witnessed in myself and others around me, something quite inspiring and beautiful. As one continues to pass the day with only prayer, contemplation and rest as one’s sustenance, unresolved inter-personal conflicts arise that must be dealt with. It is as if the food, caffeine, drink and cigarettes can no longer keep down this nagging, unsettled emotional content. This inner material must be reckoned with. It bubbles right up to the surface like a volcano’s lava, spurting up and out. Forgiveness eventually becomes the only recourse.

Besides abstaining from sexual relations from sunrise to sunset, men and women are to be more modest and humble in their dress. In Escape from Intimacy, American psychology author Anne Wilson Schaef brings to light how we try to escape problems with mild or full-blown sex addictions, as well as food, alcohol, cigarettes. Ramadan is a confrontation with such dependencies and addictions, however subtle they may be. Meeting our true selves face-to-face is quite a process. Ramadan puts food and sex into perspective. In choosing to observe Ramadan, we cannot run to the distractions that take us away ever so temporarily from our existential angst. We must deal with this angst. Prayer offers support in this spiritual challenge.

This brings me to something essential in Ramadan. My experience has shown me that instead of eating food, I need to eat God. This may be in the form of prayer, meditation, whatever it is that brings me into contact with the Divine. Personally, as a mother now, with less time and flexibility to devote to contemplative pursuits, Ramadan is a great reminder that I must make time to nourish the inner spirit. With this extraordinary opportunity to exercise personal power over the physical and emotional instincts, my spiritual self-reliance strengthens immeasurably.

Culturally, Ramadan has become an opportunity for families and friends to come together in a victorious celebration of making it through another day of not breaking one’s fast until sundown. And I always feel profound compassion for those individuals who encounter hunger without the reassurance that they will have a large meal waiting for them after a few more hours of discomfort. One feels the suffering of deprivation and becomes sensitized, experientially rather than just moralistically, to share. To share in a state of hunger oneself, is an invitation to bow to the humble trust within ourselves and to something greater than ourselves—a trust that our needs will be taken care of.

I am approaching the next Ramadan now. To me, it is the time of the year to pause and seize the depth of who I really am. I learn to embrace it all with a sharp awareness that does carry on into the months to follow. Synchronistically, the Ramadan month seems to come just when I feel the need for some good soul searching. Here we go! Ramadan is nearly here again to do its magic!

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