As I predicted in my previous column, the fasting month of Ramadan ended on Monday, June 3, and we celebrated Eid ul Fitr, or the Festival of Fast Breaking, on Tuesday, June 4. On that morning, our community, about 800 strong, gathered in the Jordan Ballroom in the Student Union Building and offered a communal prayer marking the end of Ramadan.
A photographer captured the festivities that morning by taking several pictures, which are available in the news section of the Boise State website about the end-of-Ramadan celebration on campus. These pictures show Muslims from many different countries dressed in their traditional and colorful outfits. Since it was not an official holiday in this country, those who did not take the day off had to go back to work immediately following the celebration. Others who took the day off enjoyed this day with their families or visited friends. A picnic was scheduled at Winstead Park later that weekend to allow Muslim families to bond together and to have some fun at the park.
In the days following the celebration, I started reflecting on the true purpose of fasting during Ramadan and the lessons learned from this month of religious worship. I realize that a fasting person can experience two important emotions during this month: kindness and empathy. Being kind and being empathetic to others are socio-emotional skills, which are important foundational skills for a healthy behavior in a community or society.
You experience empathy toward others when you put yourself in their shoes and pretend to feel what they are feeling. Take hunger, for example. If you want to know how a hungry person feels, then try to fast for as many hours as you can. During Ramadan, we fasted during daylight hours for about 17 hours each day. The last hours can be excruciating and that is when you start feeling hunger pains, which give you a real perspective on how a hungry person feels year-round.
Ramadan is also a month of mercy and bonding. It is a time when Muslims help one another and others outside of their community by spreading kindness and benevolence all around them. Everyone participates in fasting: young and old, male and female, rich and poor. It is an example of the unity that can be achieved among different classes in a society. The month of Ramadan reminds us how to conduct ourselves and how to behave with those around us. It teaches us the importance of showing respect to our elders and being kind to our youngsters.
The Golden Rule in Islam states that “one is not a true believer until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.” Another rule states that “one is not a believer who eats his fill while his neighbor goes to bed hungry.” Both of these rules teach us to empathize with our less fortunate neighbors and demand that we take action to alleviate their hardship. There are many organizations in Boise which promote food drives, and I applaud all their efforts to eradicate hunger.
No two Ramadans are alike. You always learn something new and different. Each Ramadan provides an opportunity to detach oneself from materialistic things, eat less, sleep less, pray more and give more. It is a special time to reflect on one’s personal life and to make the necessary changes to become a better person for the coming year.
The main purpose of Ramadan is to perform a religious obligation punctuated by a celebration on Eid ul Fitr. For some Muslims, it is a return to normalcy after a day of celebration and a relief to be able to eat and drink again at will. None of the lessons learned are retained, and very soon, some Muslims revert to their old self and their old habits. This is not the meaning of Ramadan.
A successful fasting of the month of Ramadan should be a recalibration of the self. The lessons we received teach us to be more pious, more disciplined, and how to acquire patience and maintain self-control. Most importantly, they teach us to be more God-conscious and to improve our connection with the Almighty. The Prophet defined excellence in worship as “Ihsan,” which is worshiping God as if you see him, and if you do not achieve this state of devotion, then take it for granted that God sees you all the time. This is the purpose of the month of Ramadan: reconnecting with the Almightly.
The true lesson after Ramadan is to maintain this connection with God for the rest of the 11 months in a given year until the next Ramadan. One’s exemplary conduct during Ramadan should be a training for the whole year, until the next Ramadan. I view Ramadan as an annual self-check of who I am as a person and who I want to be.
Said Ahmed-Zaid is a Boise State University engineering professor and the 2004 recipient of the annual HP Award for Distinguished Leadership in Human Rights.
The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.