Source: Discovering Islam, by Imam Seyed Mustafa al-Qazwini
Almost every religion encourages some form of fasting. Prophet Muhammad and the prophets before him all called upon their followers to fast.
The Qur'an states, “O you who believe! Fasting has been prescribed for you just as it was prescribed for those before you so that you may be pious and learn self restraint” (2:183).
Islam prescribes complete fasting. It requires complete abstinence from food, drink (including water), smoking, and sexual activity. Hence, from dawn until the time of the sunset prayer, one must abstain.
Although fasting is recommended on other significant Islamic dates, it is however, required every day during the month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. The month of Ramadan is revered and honored by all Muslims. It was on a particular night called the “Night of Destiny” (Laylat al-Qadr), during the month of Ramadan that the Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet. Muslims believe that on this night, every year, Allah determines the fate of each person for the year to come. Therefore, worshiping on the “Night of Destiny” is considered, “Better than a thousand months” 97:3.
Although the exact night of the “Night of Destiny” is not known, Islamic scholars approximate the date to fall on either the 19th, 21st, 23rd, 25th, or 27th of the month of Ramadan. Therefore, Muslims copiously worship Allah on these specific nights.
The Qur’an states:Verily, We have sent it [Qur’an] down on the Night of Destiny and what would make you know what the Night of Destiny is? The Night of Destiny is better than a thousand months; He sends down the angels, and the Spirit during it by His will for every matter; Peace! Till the rising of the dawn. (Qur'an 97).
As with prayers, the benefits of fasting are innumerable. Fasting strengthens one’s willpower, teaches discipline, encourages sympathy with the poor, breaks harmful habits, strengthens one’s health, and establishes a sense of religious brotherhood and sisterhood. However, the strongest benefits are spiritual. Fatima az-Zahra, the daughter of Prophet Muhammad said, “Fasting is to deepen and strengthen faith.” Fasting sharpens the spiritual awareness and inspires a sense of gratitude toward Allah.
Apart from refraining from food and drink, Muslims are also encouraged, during the month of Ramadan, to give additional charity toward the poor and the needy.
Reflection on Ramadan at ICCF by a United Methodist Retired Pastor
WHO’S THE GREATEST? by Larry Patten
“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” Mark 9:30-37
My friend invited me for dinner. A prayer would be said before the meal and guests like me were reassured we wouldn’t have to join, but were welcome to gather with our hosts in praising . . . Allah.
I was a non-Muslim invited to gather at Fresno’s Islamic Cultural Center to enjoy a meal and share with neighbors during Ramadan.
As an adult, the who’s-the-greatest answer in any form is meaningless. On my best days I only have interest in strengthening my faith, of becoming more Christ-like.
Ramadan represents the holiest time of year for Muslims. Among the Ramadan obligations is daily fasting. From sunrise to sunset, a person does nothing (including eating or drinking) that represents pleasure. The day’s final meal takes on significance. On every day the devout Muslim prays on five separate occasions. But during this time of celebration and sacrifice, the prayer before the dinner (Maghrib or sunset prayer) is likely more keenly felt . . . if only because of a growling stomach!
Truthfully I don’t understand much of this. Raised in a 1950s American suburb, I wasn’t aware of any Muslims, Hindus, or Buddhists. The “strangest” religious expressions came from Roman Catholic classmates or the very few Jehovah’s Witnesses I knew. Along with other elementary school students, I remember being jealous of a kid who didn’t stand or say the Pledge of Allegiance.
“Why?” we asked.
The whispered response, in the playground or from a teacher, was, “He’s a Jehovah’s Witness.” Different. Strange. Other. If there were more detailed reasons given, they zoomed over my ten-year old crew cut.
There were kids not-like-me that attended Mass on Sunday. (Why not call it church like “normal” people?) They had lists of movies the Pope allowed them to see. Or not see. (Didn’t the Pope’s film reviewers realize they created a must-see cheat sheet?) I attended a Baptist church. Wasn’t having communion a few times a year—instead of every darn week—sufficient? Yes, those Catholics were different. Strange. Other.
Nowadays, I can’t help but think of faiths like Islam and Judaism and the numerous divisions of Christianity (there are at least 635 Christian-based denominations in the United States, perhaps more by the time this is published), when I read Jesus’ concern that his disciples argued over “who was the greatest.” (Mark 9:34.)
When I was a kid, the who’s-the-greatest answer was easy. Me. My experiences. I may have been fleetingly envious of my seated, silent classmate during the Pledge, but when only one person sat and the other thirty were “just like me,” I did the social math. More numbers = the right way. Right?
At the Ramadan prayer, just before breaking the fast with my Muslim neighbors, I observed a way of faith different than mine. As an adult, the who’s-the-greatest answer in any form is meaningless. On my best days I only have interest in strengthening my faith, of becoming more Christ-like. I often fail at my efforts, but through it all the who’s-the-greatest seems, well, childish.
So what will we teach our children?
I watched my neighbors bow. I heard the Arabic language, guttural and with unexpected pauses, and couldn’t identify a single word. And yet, as the Qur'an was recited, I understood at least three things.
I was welcome. I had been told, “Come and join.” Being there was a prayer born of invitation.
There was food in my future. Religious or not, everyone fasts. Where do you think we get the word for the day’s first meal? Break the fast. Breakfast. Some eat too much; too many have too little. But every human anticipates a meal to give our bodies energy. Jesus, accused of being a glutton and drunkard, knew the joy of the meal. And even more, and I thought of this during Ramadan prayers, of the joy of sharing table with others. Break the fast. Break the bread. Break into conversation with the one next to you and across from you.
Lastly, as I witnessed men bowing low—a few in business suits and others arriving from a day of sweaty labor—I noticed a boy. My friend, the one who invited me to break Ramadan’s fast, has several children. One is a seven-year old. As my friend prayed, his child mimicked him. Words were shared, bodies moved in harmony. And there was this boy who joined his dad. Who, like me as a kid, saw this as simply what you do because this is what his family does.
Who is the greatest? My friend’s son was born after September 11, 2001. That horrific pain will always be “history” to him, a long ago event. But, for all children born since then, I humbly hope and pray for a world of compassion, where no one is odd, different, other.
What a silly question those disciples debated.
In Mark’s Gospel, to reveal his follower’s pettiness, Jesus embraced a child. I imagine Jesus—perhaps before the meal began, before a fast was broken—inviting that child to come forward and to remind others, then and now, of the power of welcoming.
(written on September 8, 2009)
Larry Patten is a writer and United Methodist pastor.