Ramadan’s Spiritual Discipline

By Mike Ghousefounder, World Muslim Conference From the moment we are born to the last rites of our life and … Continued

By Mike Ghouse
founder, World Muslim Conference

From the moment we are born to the last rites of our life and every moment in between is laden with rituals, though some of us may deny it. Whether we go to the gym, eat our food; go to sleep, wear clothes, drive some place, in our intimate moments, or picking that phone up, we follow rituals.

Discipline is necessary to do things on time, managing personal relationships, driving to a destination or keeping within budget to achieve the goals; the result is worth the discipline to most people. When joyous, whether we are a theist or not, we have to express that sentiment, otherwise a sense of incompleteness lingers in our hearts.

Every faith is composed of a set of unique rituals to bring discipline and peace to human life. Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five key rituals that Muslims around the world observe.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar and is generally observed with a ritual precision; it is an annual training or a refresher. It requires one to abstain from food, drink, intimacy, ill will, ill talk, ill actions or any temptations from dawn to dusk, every day for a month. One has to rise above his or her baser desires. Islam gifts this month to its followers to inculcate discipline to bring moderation in their daily lives. Twenty-five hundred years ago, Buddha, the enlightened one taught that human suffering is caused by unrestrained desire to own and had recommended a middle path, and the same recommendation was made by Prophet Muhammad 1,400 years ago.

Although Ramadan is popularly known in the West for its culinary delicacies and fancy Iftaar (ceremonial breaking of fast at sundown), the spirit and intent of Ramadan lies in a human transformation in a month-long inner spiritual journey of finding oneself in tune with spirituality.

God has no need for the hunger or thirst of someone who hurts others, violates their dignity or usurps their rights, said Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The fasting of the stomach must be matched by the fasting of the limbs. The eyes, ears, tongue, hands and feet all have their respective fasts to undergo. The tongue’s temptations, for example – lies, backbiting, slander, vulgarity and senseless argumentation – must be challenged and curbed to maintain the integrity of the fast.

Consciousness of behavior and vigilance over action are the most profound dimensions of fasting: the fasting of the heart focuses on the attachment to the divine. That is when Ramadan really becomes a source of peace and solace, just as Christmas goes beyond the rituals to bring forth kindness, charity and caring.

True fasting is self-purification; and from this, a rich inner life that bring about values such as justice, generosity, patience, kindness, forgiveness, mercy and empathy – values that are indispensable for the success of the community.

Knowing about hunger is different from knowing hunger. Empathy is not an intellectual equation; it is a human experience. Our hardness of heart often springs from our distance from the human condition of others. The poor, sick, disenfranchised, oppressed – we rarely walk a mile in their shoes, not even a few steps. “Rest assured,” cautioned one teacher, “if you do not taste what it feels like to be hungry, you will not care for those who are.”

For fasting to be truly universal, its benefits must extend beyond the fraternal ties of Muslims and must extend to forging a common humanity with others. Fasting is meant to impart a sense of what it means to be truly human, and its universality is reflected by its observance in Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Sikh, Zoroastrian and other faiths.

Ramadan will come and go with such stealth that we cannot but be reminded of our mortality. What is it that we value and why? Habits, customs, even obsessive behavior like smoking can be curtailed with relative ease in the face of a higher calling.

Mike Ghouse is founder of the World Muslim Congress in Dallas, Texas.

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  • eculver

    Excellent! Ramadan is a wonderful reminder to all faiths of the discipline we all need to practice in order to live in union with each other as God intended.

  • mahendragaur

    In addition to fasting, Muslims read the entire Qur’an. Some Muslims perform the recitation of the entire Qur’an by means of special prayers, which are held in the mosques every night of the month. Everyday 1/30th Qur’an recital takes place. Therefore the entire Qur’an would be completed at the end of the month. Among Hindus too, fasting is not only a part of worship, but a great instrument for self-discipline too. It is a training of the mind and the body to endure and harden up against all hardships, to persevere under difficulties and not give up. But Hindus generally keep fast once a week or once a fortnight. They eat once a day as per convenience. According to Hindu philosophy, food means gratification of the senses and to starve the senses is to elevate them to contemplation. Luqman, the wise once said, “When the stomach is full, the intellect begins to sleep. Wisdom becomes mute and the parts of the body restrain from acts of righteousness.” Fasting helps arousing that intellect too.Jains also fast during rainy season called ‘Chaumasa’. Like Ramadan, they observe fasting during an eight day period, which is presently running. They completely abstain from food, water etc. but the duration is optional from a day to full eight days. At the end of eight day period they observe ख्मत्खावना, means they beg forgiveness from all for their sins during the preceding year. In essence all religions of the world have many rituals in common, differing in form, but the spirit behind the rituals is the same viz. purification of the soul.

  • WaseemSufi

    Thanks for your article and a reminder Mike. Now we just need to extend the spirit and intent beyond the month of Ramadan in order to make a lasting change in our lives.

  • samina_faheemyahoocom

    Thanks Mike, It is very well written article about Ramadan. The month of Ramadan is also very special for families and friends. It was a very special month for me as a child because it bonded us even more as a family. We ate both meals together and lots of friends and family members were a part of the festivities. People prayed together and it was my favorite thing to do as a child.This year American Muslim Voice along with Multifaith groups and community organizations is sharing the spirit of Ramadan with Iftar and candle light vigil. “Light the Night for Peace & Friendship” http://www.amuslimvoice.org.On Friday September 11th 2009, we will have Iftar (breaking of the Ramadan fast) and a candle light vigil at Lafayette Park (in front of the White House) in Washington DC to spread the “Miracle Movement of Peace and Friendship.” We will honor 9/11 victims and their families by sowing the seed of peace and friendship. Together we can build a safe secure, peaceful and harmonious world.

  • raabta_india

    Thanks, Mike. Ramadan teaches to be more compassionate to our fellow human being. It makes us realize what hunger is and how we should control our feelings. We, Muslims, should invite our friends and neighbors to share our food at the time of iftar (in the evening). Zafar Iqbal, PhD

  • mikeghouse

    Dear friends, you are good at googling and sending the comments to my personal email; whether it is good, bad or ugly, please post it at this site where the article is published.In Dallas we are set for the 5th Annual Unity Day USAYou and your friends are invited to the 5th Annual Unity Day USA. WHEN: Please mark your calendar for 5:00 PM on Sunday, September 6 at Unity Church of Dallas, 6525 Forest Lane, (between Hillcrest & Preston), Dallas Texas. 75230. If you would like to be a volunteer, donor, sponsor or would like to list your organization to participate, please log on to http://www.UnitydayUSA.Com “This is an annual event for Americans to come together and look to each other as American and nothing but American. We will rededicate our pledge to the safety and security of our nation”.God Bless America;Mike Ghouse

  • sbnaik

    Thanks for your informative and educational article.

  • nayyarabukhari

    “Ramadan is the month during which the Quran was revealed, providing guidance for the people, clear teachings, and the statute book.

  • Lsayed75

    Without “discipline”, life of any kind and from any faith, cannot be successful and remarkable.Ramadan is the month of training of such discipline in a Muslim’s life. It is a blessing, that cannot be expressed in words, only experienced with full faith and humility.Mike Uncle, your article does complete justice to the beauty of Ramadan. May God Most Exalted shower all mankind with His blessings, Ameen!

  • wasim1

    Islam is a synthesis of Judaism & Christianity upon the authority of the Quran itself. You can only appreiciate Islam in its Judo-Christian context. As to the fasting in other religions, Al Beruni while travelling to India in 10th century describes many different fasting traditions of Hindus. Last year, I was at an ‘iftar’ at a friend’s. I was introduced to a gentleman by the host who I thought was the new Indian Consul General who was supposed to be the chief guest. This gentleman refused to eat or drink anything even that late in the evening saying in his Hindu tradition of fasting they eat only once during twenty four hours. He will eat or drink only next evening, he said. When I got home and found my glasses to read his business-card: It turned out, he was a Pakistani born Hindu billionaire, one of the several brothers. Traditional discipline had taken the family far as a conglomerate of successful businessmen! One wishes AIG and Citibanks of the world had not forgotten that critical significance of descipline. Al Biruni noted in his now classic travelogue only authoritative account of India of that period, that the essence of the Hindu religion is same as Islam. Al Biruni was writing 200 years before any Muslim dynasty was founded in India nor there was any Muslim populations centers requiring him to engage in an interfaith dialogue. He was commenting based on his observations in contemporaneous India of 10-11th century.

  • RajaMujtaba

    Islam believes in inner purification. Physical purification can not be achieved without the inner. Month of Ramadan is just a lesson in that direction. If one studies the spiritual attainments of various Aulia,(Saints) they emphasized on inner purification through constant prayer and fasting.Fasting without praying is nothing but a hunger strike. During this month, the doors of Hell are shut, every faithful is encouraged to be patient, polite and sacrifice for others. You share with others what you have, you feed the hungry, clothe the poor and also provide them with cash so they can meet some of their needs.Those who earn in millions and do no give in the way of Allah have certainly lost on the blessings of Allah; without His blessings life is meaningless.So, please brothers and sisters in faith keep your ears and eyes open, look around who is in need of your assistance reach them and give it in a manner that the other hand does not know.Islam does not allow to expose the needs and the condition of the needy nor it allows anyone to make fun of the poor by exposing them to public through media or any other means; never try to elevate yourself at their cost or try and raise your status in the eyes of the others. His hijab, sanctity and dignity has to be maintained, so Allah would maintain yours.

  • Prathiba

    Dear Sir,Fasting is done out of deep love for God, with a genuine virtue of devotion, honest dedication and closeness to Allah, for Fasting is for Allah and Him alone.In reality fasting brings silent revolution. Those who have understand or recognize who does not have. This recognition leads to equality. All the Islamic Pillars (Proclamation of One GOD, Prayers, Ramadan Fasting, alms to the poor –zakat – and Hajj) emphasizes equality.Thus Universe become peaceful, minds become peaceful, community become peaceful. No Hurts exists, but Love.Prathiba from India

  • kumar_8134

    THE REAL PURPOSE OF FASTING IS TO ALLOW THE DIGESTIVE SYSTEM TO REJUVENATE ITSELF BY SECRETING JUICES AND STORED SUGAR IN LIVER AS GLYCOGEN TO BE PUMPED BACK INTO THE BLOOD FOR ENERGY.

  • Manzir_Ahmed

    Great post, Mike!

  • Len-Ellis

    Mike, thank you for sharing your wisdom and compassion.Yet while reading comments posted by others, many seem to not get the connection between fasting as a spiritual practice, to get in touch with our inner self, and fasting as just an ‘I have to do it’ mindless practice. Like so many other things we do in our lives, we can either choose to get in touch with our inner self and our spirituality, or we can be on auto-pilot, mindlessly racing through life. It becomes a personal choice, one (I) must recognize and acknowledge this for it to have any significant impact or meaning in their (my) life.

  • alirizvi

    Nice article and expresses the true meaning of Ramdhan. This month is all about purifying our bodies, our minds and our outlook to life in general. It also helps us to build self control. It is a time to share with others who are less fortunate. There have been good and bad comments from people. Probably who do not truly understand the meaning of Ramadhan have a different idea. I urge them to talk to a friend of a muslim faith who can explain in more detail. Peace to all.

  • manishyt

    For Muslims, the start of Ramadan this year in radically different than a year agoAs we enter the month of Ramadan, it is a good opportunity to take a pause and look back at how much has changed over this past year. True, most problems are still to be resolved. Questions of governance, war and economic inequality all remain. However, there is a difference – a tangible one – and one from the most unlikely of places, the life story of the President himself. The election of Barack Hussein Obama simultaneously removed the man that the Muslim World had come to hate more than any other (George W Bush) and also marked the moment that the world’s only superpower was led by someone with an innate understanding of Islam, given that Islam was the faith of his own father.Full post on http://www.dailyexception.com

  • wasim1

    I fully agree with the comments of Kumar. For many well to do Muslims Ramadan is the party-time. It is like Christmas here in USA. For the entire month of December the work slows down, at least in corporations, because there are office party during the day almost every other day. There are gift exchanges and in the evening there are private parties. Then last half of December is the holiday season and those who can afford spend the time in warmer climes or holiday resorts… so much for the spirit of Christ(mas). So Kumar is right, during Ramadan, as in Christmas, those who can afford to do good, they do not do it to themselves (i.e. lower that cholesterol or loose some pounds. But because Ramadan is also a period when Muslims engage in charitable giving, it does do some good to many poor Muslims. If there was no such obligation,even that much good would not come to those deprived. However, the spririt of Ramdan (Sanskrit: dan=giving, Ram=God, thus giving in the name of God) is recharge those instincts of self-abnegation Wasim in US of All (ah!)

  • AsifAkbarIrvingTX

    As mentioned in the article Ramadan is all about sacrifice, charity, mercy and rememberence of Allah abundantly. It is the month in which the complete and final book Quran descended. This is the book that Allah has made Islam as final and complete religion for mankind. Faith must be practiced and not be followed. Ramadan is like a fuel station where Muslims go and refuel their spirituality/creed/faith. They submit to Allah with hunger, immence self-humiliation by sacrificing their eye,mouth,tounge usage by remembering and submitting to Allah. This is month that every mankind should remember those misfortunate poor people in Africa, Asia, Afghanistan, Middleeast who are struggling to for a single day meal or water. Muslims must always remember these needy people on the planet and donate generously as this is the month immence rewards and mercy from Allah swt. This is month to clean up their wealth by giving Zakat, 2.5% of their wealth. Zakat has been made mandatory for Muslims and this is the month of the fiscal year where a Muslim must pay their Zakat. Muslims must limit their fancy iftaars, gossip and other social iftaar parties and turn their attention towards acheiving salvation by fasting,reading quran and praying at Mosque in cogregation. Muslims must also express their love, caring attitude towards their immediate family members, relatives and friends, and the most important will be our non-muslim friends.Mosques/Muslim Organizations must and should host iftaar parties to bring in their non muslims friends, city counsels, police/fire departments to give them an overview of Ramadan and its importance to Muslims. This is a must do activity which majority of the Muslims organizations fail to organize.Even though this month brings Muslims more close to Allah swt, but unfortunately Muslims tend to practice their faith in this month and leaving behind the remaining 11 months in business as usual mode. Muslims shoud fill up their heart with imaan/faith/rememberance of Allah such that Ramadan should become a foundation month to maintain your spirituality for the rest of the 11 months.Asif Akbar, Irving TX

  • mikeghouse

    Religion is a great formula for human beings to bring peace, balance and tranquility to one and what surrounds them; people and environment.Most people work the formula, a few don’t. There will always be a small percentage of people who violate the social, religous, or moral guidelines.A majority of the people in every group understand the essence of religion and few don’t. Let’s look at the world from general terms rather than exceptions.thanks

  • s_a_bitar

    Hi Mike

  • HealingNews

    This article should be recommended to any person of faith, as fasting is truly a Universal principle, known to assist in healing and purification on so many levels, regardless of religious, spiritual or other belief systems. Just do it, and you will experience the wonderful, often long term effects.

  • saadiabchaudhry

    There are some people who think the purpose is to inflict starvation on one’s self but it is really to learn spiritual discipline and self restraint. Although it seems really hard, the body gets used to fasting after a few days and the rewards last, especially if you repeat the same thing each day. I’ve been able to study for the GRE and go to grad school, exercise, get my wishes granted, and do many other things. There are other ways to go through changes and to worship, but this is one I’ve found effective so its not as much about social pressures as it is about personal conviction.

  • nath0017

    Thanks for giving us the insight to Ramadan. Indeed, it must take lot of self control to not eat anything for the whole day for 30 days.It appears we have all these different religions but all are trying to lead us from our lower mind to higher mind. thanksShambhu Nath, Shakopee, MN

  • shariqnisar

    Good Work!Please keep it up. In these days of crisis of confidence among religions, it is our duty to convey Islamic teachings to the non-muslim community. This will help improve relations between communities.Dr Shariq Nisar