The first blog I read about Ramadan this year was full of the usual self-righteous pontification that takes this occasion to remind people to do such and such at this or that level. Who is the target audience for such an approach, I wondered? It seemed to operate on the basic idea that Muslims will NOT do the right thing unless someone tells them to. Mostly, though I noticed the gloom and doom of it and I decided then to make my Ramadan focus on joy.
First a quick reminder about the basics: Throughout the 9th lunar month, Muslims are obliged to abstain from food, drink and sexual intercourse during the day. It goes on like this for 29-30 days. There are also points of difference about some details of the fast, like how we determine which day to start. Either we actually cite the new moon, go by advanced calculations of the new moon, or some combination of these two. This leads to healthy chaos at the beginning because no one knows when the first day will, be but must prepare in order to get in that pre-dawn meal, called suhur. I say, healthy chaos, not only because I’m a bit of an anarchist, but also because I like that no one has complete control about such an important decision.
Also of note this year, in the Northern hemisphere, Ramadan started just a few days after summer solstice, which means the day light goes for 16-20 hours—in the heat! Some people observe the length of the fast according to actual day light, others observe the length of the day in another sacred place, like in Makkah. Again, no single decision prevails over all others leaving room for diversity and personal conscience about which option.
There are some exemptions from the fast, with days made up at other times of the year for temporary interferences, like travel, sickness, menstruation. Fasting is not obligated upon those with long term concerns like diabetes. “Feeding the poor” is an alternative to fasting permitted by the Qur’an and practiced widely, again in different forms.
I know what that person was trying to do in that blog. Really, I do. You see, Ramadan is like an annual tune up of faith and devotion. More (of the 1.3 billion) Muslims observe fasting in Ramadan than any other prescribed Islamic ritual. There are also additional acts of devotion associated with the month: personally reading through the entire Qur’an, praying up to 20 units of prayer each night, usually in congregation, called tarawih, and putting your own ego in check over anger and other bad habits.
This year, I thought a lot about what I’d like to call “a culture of fasting”. For although this culture is diverse, it is clear that Muslims are conscious that their fellow Muslims will be fasting, even if they do not observe by choice or necessity. In this culture, even a non-faster wouldn’t invite another faster to lunch! Meanwhile to share the fast-breaking meal, iftar, with family, friends, neighbors, and strangers, even at public and commercial places, is one of the most anticipated pleasures of the observance.
I began my fast awaiting the birth of my grandson in a house with several other adults who were not fasting. So I felt the pang of not having this culture of fasting, except with my daughter who was too pregnant to fast. In my isolation, it didn’t take me long to lose my good sense of humor about making my way to the kitchen at 3 a.m. using a flash light. I missed not having control over my kitchen. It was worse than fasting while traveling, because then it is usually only for a day or two.
A week into the fast a new groove is reached. For me this means greater mental clarity, new insights even to some of the same intellectual concerns. Not being bogged down with much food must make a radical change in the body and the mind. For sure, fasting in Ramadan emphasizes the critical connection between body and ritual. It’s not just about how one feels in the heart, the entire body participates so that whatever is recognized, is intensified. The Qur’an says, the fast teaches self-constraint. A solid month-long readjustment in basic habits brings not only awareness, but appreciation.
In my quest for the joy this year, I met a person who made the best affirmation of gratitude I think I have heard in a long time. It showed me up for the complaining I had been doing about fasting away from my comfort center and with no culture of fasting around me. I saw how I had found fault with being alone, wandering around the house at 3 a.m. with a flashlight.
Then an interesting thing happened. A medical emergency in my family led me to a hospital in another city where I had no recourse except to sleep in my car. At 3 a.m. I got a bag of chips and a bottle of water at the 7-11 and began to chuckle: Had I previously been complaining about a flashlight in a dark house while fasting alone?!
Yes, Ramadan can teach us gratitude; but first we might need to learn humility.
I’m thankful for the lesson.
I am grateful, for a lifetime of work towards Muslim women’s freedom, agency and upliftment. I’m grateful for amazing friends in all parts of the world and the means to keep in touch with them. I am grateful for my family, especially my adult children; all kind, decent, and responsible with a spiritual dedication of their own. I’m grateful they are now parents with generosity and compassion.
This month we welcomed a new member to our family. I am grateful for the opportunity to see him come into the world. I wish him and my family, and you and yours a long and healthy life of prosperity, justice, peace and love abundant.
amina wadud is Professor Emerita of Islamic Studies, now traveling the world over seeking answers to the questions that move many of us through our lives. Author of Qur’an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman’s Perspective and Inside the Gender Jihad, she will blog on her life journey and anything that moves her about Islam, gender and justice, especially as these intersect with the rest of the universe.
13 thoughts on “No Ramadan Gloom and Doom by amina wadud”
AS Professor Wadud,
Thank you for this post! One question, why not eat before the sunrises at 5:42 am (my part of the world in So Cal)? Everyone in my family is calling me at 3:00 am, and its pitch black and I just don’t get it. I never understood why we got up to eat way before the sun rose? I’ve heard why of course, the scientific reasons behind it, but to me it just complicates things. The fast should be from sunrise to sunset, so why am I eating at 3:00 am when I can’t see the sun yet? I would love your input! Thank you so much.
Just had that talk with a friend, a convert. As basic as it is, I think it is about lack of certainty about 2 things: 1/what is fajr and what is subh, 2/ what does the quran say about it. The friend confused the fajr/ subh prayer with the sunnah of fajr, and since some schedules of prayers are unclear about which is which, some, to be safe, go with earlier time.
It also reflects the tendency of some to make a requirement of the voluntary extra. How many khutbas have I heard where the imam demanded people engage in extra worship, prayers, fast…etc, thereby taking away the voluntary nature of those and burdening the religion more than God intended! Some brother actually demanded to know why I wasn’t fasting that extra fast in that special time, and another felt undue pressure and guilt about not doing more extra worship, when he was struggling just to keep up with the required ones.
So, being safe and stopping eating 10 minutes before the prescribed time has crept up into 2 hours for added safety but also as a form of extra worship, not unlike those who delay breaking their fast until way past the time as a means of accentuating their fast.
Secondly, it is fascinating how many Muslims seek guidance about what the quran says outside of the quran, and the quran is very clear about this: ….And eat and drink until the white thread of dawn becomes distinct to you from the black thread [of night].
Thank you so much. I try to follow as the Quran says about the fasting, and the 3:00 am time just did not seem as God would even want for us. Especially when by the time you finish eating its close to 9:00 or 10:00 pm after breaking the fast about 8:20 pm.
These summer months are overwhelming. And I struggle with the fast because I also have a 16 month I chase after. So by the time I finally eat and go to sleep its after midnight with the baby waking up about 4:30 am for milk which if I’m not a zombie at that time I usually try and eat to suhoor. I’ve been feeling guilty because the ‘calendar’ says 3:00 am to eat and my grandmother has been calling me every morning at 3:00 am. However even at 4:30 and 5:00 am the ‘white’ of the day hasn’t even appeared. So I rationalized that God does not want me to be unduly challenged and eating at 4:30 or 5:00 is permitted.
Thank you for mentioning the burden being placed to do extra. That is so right, there is a pressure to do extra, when just keeping up with the obligatory is sometimes hard and the extra just seems so overwhelming sometimes. This is coming from a girl who used to fast the entire month before Ramadan just to get some extra worship in. Now my life changed and I can’t fathom to do something like that, and I shouldn’t feel bad about it. Thank you for affirming that.
subuh means morning and is used in some cultures to refer to the pre-dawn prayer, which under fiqh is called fajr, this is a Qur’anic word and thus preferred by me.
There is a extra “cut off time” from eating (has another name btw) which can be any where from a few minutes to several, some schools of thought adhere to these as mandatory. Again there is enough difference of opinion that I neither fault those who observe it, as I once did, nor feel impelled to observe it as I do not these years. I also no longer rush to spit out something in my mouth or dump a last ounce of water if the time for fajr arrives. I just finish and go ahead with my fasting day.
As I said, the “gloom and doom” brigade (aka khutbah crew) have a purpose but that purpose some time does not serve my worship or my devotion, so I do not make them the determining factor to my divine human relation. But I did invest decades in becoming versed myself so I almost never get that kind of conversation directly. Next time the “brother” demands of your personal schedule, simply say I FAST for Allah and not you, so if there are any questions or concerns I take them up with Allah and they are not your concern, thank you.
the relationship of the pre-dawn meal is to that first prayer. which is at DAWN (sahar) a time when light begins to come to the horizon and yet the sun will be up for about an hour and 40 mintues. we stop eating before that prayer, which goes on year round even if one is not fasting.
Sunrise has no relation to the Muslim worship.. except to be avoided, relative to the practices of some sun-worshippers..
Also if you lived in the desert, where the historical roots of the religion are, you could see these changes in the sky more easily. so they are still there whether our buildings trees, mountains or just fatigue might obscure them from our vision. So we use the desk clock or cell phone timers instead…
There are some differences of opinion about the required duration of the fast especially where the sun never sets. If you choose to follow that schedule because the fast is an undue burden for you, you can refer the curious to this research
for example: http://unity1.wordpress.com/2014/06/30/fatwa-on-fasting-in-ramadan-during-the-uk-summer/
Both which clarify the classical understanding and the conditions relative to living in the northern most part of the planet.
Also, the double schedule of the fast and younger children especially is well worth its own blog. I posted on my facebook page that as I age, also the possibility of these long day fasts will just be impossible. It was interesting how many felt called to share they too had already made adjustments.
Make clear niyyah or intentions for what you aspire to do and take it up with Allah and do not bother to try and justify it to others. Again the fast is for Allah and you do not have to answer to every one else’s gloom and doom.
I do recall what it was like not to have children under my care (as they are all adults now) so I could indulge all the “extras” and came to accept that even in worship there can be privilege and one needs to accept that it is so when it is available.
I admire your commitment, thank you for posting
Have a blessed month. I’m grateful to read your posts and learn more about what you believe and what you do. Bright blessings!
And we are grateful for you!
I’m glad to learn more about Ramadan. Thank you, Amina. But it’s unclear to me from your post why Muslims fast FOR ALLAH. Is it because Allah wants you to learn self-restraint?
Like all liturgical performances, other wise known as ritual, there are MANY reasons, hidden and manifest.
I mentioned something specifically stated in the Qur’an the Islamic holy text, but I did not mention others statements from the Qur’an, from the Prophet, from mystics and scholars. Fasting is one of the 5 obligatory requirements of Muslim identity as believers.
However it’s benefits are many. It’s history and present day observance is vast and diverse I could never completely say “why” Muslims fast but in a one thousand word blog, I wished to share a tiny bit about the experience.
As a believer, I hope all my actions, including this blog, are FOR Allah.
fantastic blog. So good to read this and interesting comments too!
EID MUBARAK to all…. and may all your many efforts be accepted
Reblogged this on All things spiritual and commented:
Such a wonderful blog and I really admire your frankness and honesty about issues that some may not dare to speak about.