The Islamic holy month of fasting called Ramadan is with us once again, and all over the world Muslims are entering into a 29 or 30 day period of self-restraint and self-reflection. From the first sighting of the new moon (July 9th in North America) until the sighting of the next new moon (Aug. 8th), all healthy adult Muslims are expected to refrain from eating or drinking anything, starting from about an hour and twenty minutes before sunrise until just after sunset. This year that covers a period of over 16 hours.
The point of fasting in Islam is not to starve the body but feed the soul. This is done by voluntarily foregoing that which is lawful and allowed by God solely in order to focus more intensely on God and on striving to better yourself as a Muslim and in doing good works and giving in charity to those less fortunate. If nothing else, the fast in Ramadan makes you acutely aware of the sufferings of others, especially those who go hungry by circumstance, not by choice. But compassion for others is only the start.
A common question Muslims hear from non-Muslims is, why do you have to fast? Why put yourself through such denial and hardship? A similar question is often asked about the Islamic prayer, which Muslims are required to perform five times a day, with the first prayer about an hour before sunrise and the last prayer about an hour after sunset.
The answer to both questions is the same: if you want spiritual benefits and progress, you have to actually do something, you must sacrifice your time and sleep and energy for the sake of pleasing God and becoming humbler and closer to God. That is why Muslims pray in various postures like standing and bowing and sitting, with the humblest being the act of prostration, on your hands and knees with your forehead on the ground, in complete submission before God.
The fast in Ramadan requires a Muslim to not only offer the regular obligatory five daily prayers, but expects him or her to willingly rededicate themselves to their religion and the sincere worship of God, and to helping others even more than usual. Muslims are also encouraged to get up in the middle of the night to perform Tahajjud -- extra prayers done privately before the beginning of the fast and the regular morning prayer, called Fajr.
Another feature of Ramadan is for believers to complete at least one reading of the Quran before the month of Ramadan is over. This involves recitation of the Arabic text of the Quran, either aloud or silently, as well as reading the Quran in whatever language you understand. This is extremely important because if a Muslim recites only the Arabic text but does not know what it means, there is very little spiritual benefit. It would be like a parrot who may say something repeatedly but has no idea what it means.
In order to create a change in the soul, you must comprehend the teachings of God in the language you understand in order to take those teachings to heart and make them a living part of you. This is what allows Muslims to reconnect to their faith and strengthen their relationship with God and their fellow Muslims. It is one of the main blessings of Ramadan that Muslims who may have fallen away from a sincere and regular practice of Islam have a month to get back with the program, so to speak.
Ramadan is also a wonderful opportunity for non-Muslims to get to know Muslims and learn first-hand about the true teachings and practices of Islam. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, now in more than 200 countries, has always welcomed other Muslims and non-Muslims to participate in the prayers, fasting, lectures and other events associated with Ramadan. This is one simple way to build bridges of peace and understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims, and between Muslims of different denominations. Our motto is “Love for All – Hatred for None.”
To learn more about Ramadan or to participate in the fast or attend any of the five daily prayers or the Taraveeh prayer, or the nightly lectures starting at 7pm or the free dinners after the sunset prayer, please contact the Baitul Hameed Mosque in Chino at 909-627-2252 or Imam Shamshad A. Nasir at 909-636-8332. You may also contact the Imam at his Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The main website for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is: www.Alislam.org
(with Imam Shamshad; appeared in print in the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin's "From the Pulpit" religion section Sat., July 20th, 2013; and at this link for AhmadiyyaTimes.com: http://ahmadiyyatimes.blogspot.com/2013/07/perspective-ramadan-time-for.html#more