Merlene Davis: We need to gain a better understanding of Muslim's Ramadan

Herald-Leader columnistJuly 8, 2013 

Yuni Haristuti, left, and her daughter, Raida Utomo, 3, pray during an observance marking the end of Ramadan in the Blue Grass Ballroom in Lexington Convention Center in Lexington, Ky., Friday morning, October 12, 2007.

MATT GOINS — 2007 File photo

When Shaheid Rashid was younger, he saw his grandmother, a devout Christian, fast as a means of gaining strength over personal battles in order to concentrate more on honoring God.

"My grandmother fasted all the time for the same reason I am fasting now," he said. "Fasting was a tradition in most religions."

Now as imam at Masjid Bilal Ibin Rabah, a mosque at 1545 Russell Cave Road, Rashid will be observing Ramadan for about 30 days, taking the time to not only fast during daylight hours, but also taking this opportunity to re-evaluate and restart his life.

What exactly is Ramadan? Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic calendar, is celebrated by abstaining from food from dawn until sunset every day. Those with health concerns or the very young are excluded.

The end of the fast is celebrated with a feast called Eid al-Fitr, a religious holiday on which Muslims are not permitted to fast. That celebration starts Aug. 7.

But there is more to Ramadan than that. It is about humility, patience, self-restraint and spirituality.

Ramadan is celebrated during the ninth month because that was when the first verses of the Koran were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, Rashid said. The month is a tool, he said, for Muslims to reprogram lives that have gone astray from God throughout the rest of the year.

"It is about restraining from the normal and powerful appetite that you have that separates you from the pursuit of excellence," he said. "It's like a womb that you go into for redevelopment, like a caterpillar in a cocoon."

Devout Muslims should use the time for introspection, prayer and reading the Koran, because the struggle to be in harmony with God is unending, Rashid said.

We don't have the power to obey God's commandments without God's assistance, he said. Observing Ramadan properly is a reminder of that.

"We make mistakes, but we try to get back on track," he said. "We have potential but we have to work to get it out of us.

"It's like diamonds. If they were just lying around, they wouldn't have any value."

And, he said, Muslims should use the time to connect with oppressed people throughout the world who don't have access to the food, water and the many comforts Americans have.

He takes that so seriously, he chooses to eat "like a poor person" each evening.

"That means I eat for survival and not for enjoyment," Rashid said. "Some people will have big, fine feasts, but I was taught we should eat like poor people instead of wasting food. One problem Muslims have during Ramadan is eating too much. They are focused on the meal at the end of the day instead of getting the benefits of the fast."

Also, Muslims are to abstain from alcohol, smoking, sex, excess, anger, gossiping and the like.

So, what should those of us who are not Muslims do to make things easier this month? Should we not offer food, not eat in front of Muslim colleagues, what?

Rashid said we should continue doing what we've always done. Muslims must be successful in their quest of renewal while living and working in their customary environments.

"We don't expect anyone to adjust," he said.

So be aware that many Muslims may be starting their first day of fasting and soul cleansing today. Some may start on Wednesday.

And also remember some might need a little encouragement and a lot of understanding, and perhaps some space.

Just like us.

Merlene Davis: (859) 231-3218. Email: mdavis1@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @reportmerle. Blog: merlenedavis.bloginky.com.

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