Hasan: Ramadan in Vail | VailDaily.com

Hasan: Ramadan in Vail

Muhammad Ali Hasan
Vail CO, Colorado

Mouth is dry. Stomach is empty. I’m thirsty. I’m starving. Ramadan is back.

Ramadan is the holiest month of the year for a Muslim. Moving ahead by two weeks each year, it is a month that commemorates the time when Angel Gabriel came to Earth to visit with Prophet Muhammad as chapters of the Quran (the Islamic holy book) began to be written. The Quran is almost the exact same book as the Torah and the Bible, both holy books in Islam, with the addition of new chapters and changes in some details. Thus, Muslims recognize the month of Ramadan by fasting for 30 straight days during this time of the Quran’s birth.

I am often asked by many, “How are you supposed to not eat for 30 straight days?” I always chuckle at this question. The fast, by Islamic prescription, means that practicing Muslims will not eat or drink anything during the daylight hours, with food and water to only be consumed during night. During Ramadan one also must refrain from bad thoughts, denouncement of someone behind his/her back, and lies.

One reason why I practice Islam is because I’m attracted to the focus that it puts on the individual, not just the community; this is what we would call Jihad. Jihad over the last 15 years has become a dirty word, as its mainstream definition represents terrorism, evil men, and the death of the innocent people. The real definition of Jihad revolves around the individual and his/her personal struggle to become a better human being, and often, we do not know when personal growth is taking place. Rather, our reflections at the end of the day only allow us to see how much we truly have grown.

When I first started fasting around the age of 15, it became my Jihad to resist food and water during the daylight hours. The first few days were a peace of cake. The following days found me struggling, as an empty stomach and dry mouth were made worse by all the food and water that surrounded me in the form of vending machines and snacks; food had never seemed so accessible until those days. So there was my Jihad in action ” not a fight against a country or a person, but rather, a fight against my desires.

In those earlier years of Ramadan, the practice allowed me to never take food for granted. I would bite into a large meal at night, and for the first time in my life, I felt compelled to pray to God and thank Her for allowing me to have dinner. For as much as I would slave away during the daylight hours, starving for a meal, I could not help but think of people around the world who lived in poverty, often going days without food or water. That was around the time when I read a particular passage in the Quran that talked about why fasting taught one empathy and allowed people to feel suffering who otherwise might not for the sake of having a better understanding of how it would be like to live without one’s everyday luxuries.

It was around my late teens then that I took on the next challenge of Ramadan ” not thinking badly of others, nor saying mean things behind their backs. Now this was tough.

It did not matter that I was fasting, because there were some people, on a daily basis, who would naturally make my anger shoot high. It might be something as simple as cutting me off in traffic, or making fun of me in class, but regardless, although I made a promise to not think badly of others, the people around me did not make a similar promise to not do their best to elicit a negative reaction from me.

Oddly enough, I quickly realized that I might be taking my friends and family or granted. I relied on them to make me happy and keep my spirits up, yet I was bothered that they may not know it. At the same time, I needed an outlet for dealing with those who did bother me; in consulting the Quran, I learned to pray for anyone who might cause anger within me and forgive them.

My Jihad felt like a three-headed monster! The first head of not thinking badly of others, the second head of doing a better job of communicating love to my friends and family, and the third head of forgiving those who may cause me to become angry.

With my friends and family, I learned to tell them “I love you,” without having to be insecure about saying such things. With those who hurt me, I learned to forgive and pray for them. In doing so, the practice made me remember the times I made others angry or let others down; it was a humbling practice because while I forgave many around me, I learned that I would need forgiveness from many, as well.

Most of all, I came to love myself deeply. After all, through fasting, forgiving, and loving others, I came to appreciate the emotional depths I could allow myself to travel, and despite the sins, having the ability to live up to whatever Jihad I set out to conquer. In loving myself so much, I came to love everyone else. Everyone around me was just as capable of the same gifts and emotional depth; that’s when I started seeing myself in others and seeing others in me. That’s when I started to say, “may peace and love be upon you all” and I mean it everytime.

The days are long and the hunger is rough. My discipline is being challenged, but my ability to love remains unscathed. I’m confident I could inherit any challenge and succeed, because I’ll go through it learning, growing, and becoming a better person. Despite the hunger in my tummy and the thirst in my mouth, I have never been so thankful to suffer. I’m blessed that Ramadan is here.

Muhammad Ali Hasan of Beaver Creek writes a biweekly column for the Vail Daily. He can be reached at hasandaddymac@mac.com.

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