Thursday, July 18, 2013

In Search Of The True Meaning Of Ramadan

Ramadan Mubarak to all Blue Abaya readers!
The following article was published in Saudi Gazette on Wednesday. I wrote the article because every year that I spend in Saudi Arabia during Ramadan, the more all the over consuming and madness is starting to bother me. The true, original meaning of Ramadan has been totally forgotten and it makes me feel really sad to see what is has become for some.

Most non-Muslims know this month as the time when Muslims abstain from food and drink during the daylight hours.  Before I came to KSA, admittedly, just like most non-Muslims living in western countries, I was pretty ignorant about Ramadan. I knew that this was the month when Muslims fasted from sunrise to sunset, but that was pretty much it. I had heard people saying 'them mohammedians' can eat only at night because Allah doesn't see in the dark or that Muslims need to fast only part of the day because they couldn't handle a week in row and other such nonsense. I remember wondering, what was the real reason behind the Muslim fast, but never bothered to find out the real answer. That is, until I came to the Magic Kingdom.

During my first Ramadan here I became very curious to find out more about this month as it all suddenly became much more of a reality to me. To my surprise, as Ramadan drew closer, my expat friends grew grumpier. "I hate Ramadan!" "Everything is closed, nobody is working" "Muslims skip work and leave all the work for us to do" "Whatever you do, don't stay in Saudi for Ramadan, it's just crazy" "they will arrest you if they see you drinking water during the day" etc etc etc. I did not hear a single positive comment about Ramadan. So naturally, I became somewhat weary of what Ramadan would bring along and started to dread the beginning of it along with all the other expats.

So Ramadan rolled along and the entire hospital turned upside down. Read here what Ramadan is like in a Saudi hospital. Patients ate at the strangest hours, visitors came and went in the middle of the night, Muslim working hours were cut, some Muslim employees would disappear in the middle of shifts, medicine regimes had to be changed and fasting patients could not even be administered intravenous medicines during daytime. It was all very confusing.

Despite all the weird schedule changes, I could not help noticing other changes too. There was a remarkable sense of unity, cheerfulness and a feeling of high spirits among my Muslim colleagues. The patients, if possible, became even more welcoming, friendly, and hospitable. There was a sense of elation in the air that I could not quite put my finger on, but it made me even more curious.

One day I watched all the ward clerks praying together with some nurses and doctors in the staff room where I was doing charting. I finally mustered up the confidence to ask about Ramadan, despite the fact that they were all Saudi males and I felt a little intimidated to approach them on this matter. I remember simply asking "why do you fast during Ramadan?"

I was blown away by the reply. Looking back, the way one of the men explained it to me in such a nice and respectable way was commendable, despite my seemingly super ignorant question.

He told me: "We fast to remember all those people who cannot eat and drink daily. We fast to feel their suffering, to remind ourselves of how blessed we are to have food and water. "

"We fast to feel those same pangs of hunger that our poor sisters and brothers feel daily around the world."

"We fast to become more generous, to practise self-discipline and to strive to become better Muslims and people."

His words had a profound impact on me. Somehow I had failed to see the true meaning of the fast. I started to look at it from an entirely different perspective.

I came to realize, that in reality, Ramadan is so much more than just abstaining from food and drink during the daylight hours. Basically, Muslims are supposed to abstain from all harmful acts as much as possible and concentrate on becoming a better person and Muslim. Everyone can set their own goals for Ramadan according to their life situation and abilities. While one person struggles to quit smoking, another might set as a goal to read the entire Quran during Ramadan. Some might plan to pray extra prayers every day, donate to charity or memorize a new Surah from the Quran.

So I learned from my Muslim colleagues that Ramadan is also about remembering our Creator, reading the Quran, which was sent down during the month of Ramadan, doing good deeds (out of a sincere wish to do them, not by habit or force), being kind to others, giving out Dawah (teaching, not preaching non-Muslims about Islam) and remembering the poor and the less fortunate. Ramadan is about being humble, modest and abstaining not only from food, but from extravagance, over-consuming, spending, wasting food, money and resources.

Sadly, what I see today is very disturbing in that many people in Saudi Arabia are doing the exact opposite. The true purpose has been long lost and forgotten. I see people stocking up on food and spending on groceries like crazy, cooking and baking like there is no tomorrow. Women are spending their days in the kitchen instead of focusing on their religion; some out of their own will or perhaps out of learned habit and routine, some by demands from husband and even peer pressure.

When time comes for iftar, people indulge in extravagant meals and then lay around all evening snacking on deep fried, highly sweetened and unhealthy foods, watching Arabic soap operas on TV, gossiping with friends and staying up all night. Many go to shopping malls which are now open until the early morning hours for mindless shopping. Some even force their kids to stay up late or wake them in the middle of the night so that the parents don't have to get up early with them! The next day they sleep until the evening until it all starts over again at sunset.

The Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) taught Muslims by example to break the fast with simply dates and water and eat a light meal later. Pray Tawareeh prayers, then go to sleep as one normally would, get up early for night prayers and suhoor (breakfast) and go about the day working and doing things that one would normally do.

Let's not forget the true meaning of Ramadan, its purpose, and all the blessings of this month.
Break those unhealthy and binding routines and habits.

Make your Ramadan beneficial, not superficial!


Noor said...

You know before I reverted I really did not know much about Ramadan as well but I reverted right before so I was thrown into it and I really loved it :) I love Saudi only during Ramadan it is nice to be here mashAllah but yes many people all over the world end up thinking about food and cooking and forget what it is really about. I make small meals or get take out so that does not happen alhumdullah. But cooking for your family also has many blessings in it :) I can not judge anyone else that is for sure but inshAllah everyone is blessed during Ramadan.

Anonymous said...

... "Ramadan is about being humble,.." Also a break from the cynism of the cynic. Alhamdulillaah

Ramadhaan Mubaarik

Penelope said...

I enjoyed reading this because it is all too easy to resent the disruption to normal life that happens at Ramadan. Your insights into what Ramadan should be, in comparison to what it has become make so much sense. Thanks :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Layla,
I have a question about tattoo removal, and you seem to know about the healthcare areas. My boyfriend and older brother got drunk last year and both got tattoos. My boyfriend is saudi from Jeddah with a strick family. It's Ramadan now and he regretting the ink on his arm. He will be leaving to his home after summer and he wants to get rid of it, but it will take to long. He doesnt think they have the equiqment to remove it in Jeddah, like we have here, and is in a panick that someone will see it. He wants to go back and get a visa to come back and remove it, but he finished his studies and not sure of that. Do you know much about this topic?

Anonymous said...

Staying in Saudi Arabia during Ramadan becomes all the more delight & special, you see lot of warmth & love around. But lately we have forgotten the true essence & aim of Ramadan.
Nice article to bring front this new norm.
May Allah (SWT) guide us all.
Ramadan Mubarak.

Unknown said...

Heartwarming post. Thank You, and (belated) Ramadan Kareem to you and your family!

Manal Mirza said...

The article is very well written and not at all biased. There are many muslims who sadly have forgotten the true meaning of fasting. Not only during the fast but after the fast as well, do we have to keep in mind the true objective of Fast. It is so upsetting becos this is from the own soul of the Muslim in this month as the devils are locked up. This month is truly to drop all our bad habits becos not only do we abstain from the halal (food &drinks) but from the haram as well.
This is a month of forgiveness where Allah is waiting and asking for people to seek forgiveness. but we are sadly sinning even more. AstagfiraAllah!
As Muslims, our main goal should be to remember that Allah is watching and due to His fear we would finally stop our sinning and bad habits. in sha Allah!
thanks for ur post! I loved it!