“There’s a hidden sweetness in the stomach’s emptiness.”Rumi
Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, is well known as the month of fasting. Muslims fast from the break of dawn to sunset refraining from both food and water in a common goal of drawing closer to God, also known as increasing their Taqwa in Arabic. It is a time for reflection and spiritual growth. Depending on the time of year and where you are located in the world, fasts can be anywhere between 10-18 hours. I know that sounds long, but many religious traditions, including Christianity and Judaism, have rich ancient traditions of fasting in some form. In fact, there is a wealth of knowledge, backed by scientific research, which talks about some of the benefits of fasting on preventing disease, improving cognitive function and mental wellbeing.
The month of Ramadan marks the revelation of the holy book, the Quran. Muslims commemorate this revelation by reading the entire book during special nightly prayers held at local mosques, community centres and sometimes within families. Often, Muslims increase their worship during the last ten nights. The most important night of the month is the 27th, known as the Night of Power. This is the night when the holy book was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) through the Angel Jibril and it is considered better than a thousand months of worship.
I have personally found Ramadan to be a period of spiritual reflection, which, during the rest of the year, can often get lost with work, family and other commitments. It is a time to reset by looking inwards and expressing gratitude for our lives while showing compassion towards those less fortunate. Ramadan is a time of coming together. Often family members from far and wide join us towards the last two weeks of the month sharing in the breaking of fasts and nightly prayers. I also see Ramadan as an opportunity to come together as a community and it is a time when I really reflect on the importance of my work as a Diversity and Community Relations Judge. In recent years, I have volunteered with various projects which aim at connecting people from all faiths, and those from non-religious backgrounds, to break down barriers and misconceptions about Islam while also sharing the diverse arts, culture and heritage of the religion. Ramadan reminds me of the impact we can all have on communities and it creates a spirit of togetherness even in times of challenge for us all. Through events during Ramadan, I have met many people who started out as strangers and over the years have turned into friends.
The month ends with the festival of Eid requiring all Muslims to fulfil their charitable obligation by donating money to the poor. It is often celebrated by wearing new clothes, attending the mosque for prayers early in the morning and ending with a coming together of the family with lots of food and gifts. As a keen baker, that is my favourite part.
The extract at the start of my article is taken from a longer poem written in Persian, by my favourite poet, Rumi, the well-known Islamic theologian turned Sufi mystic. Rumi focused on a more personal spiritual connection with God rather than following the formal religious practices laid down for Muslims.
To all my colleagues, I wish you a blessed Ramadan Kareem.