The month of Ramadan (or Ramadhan) has rapidly approached this year. In Mecca, Saudi Arabia the daily duration will be about 15 hours per day, about 17 hours in Beijing, China, around 16 hours in New York City, and other parts of the U.S. and around 13 hours in Jakarta, Indonesia. Current estimates of the world Muslim population are close to 1.8 billion people. In short, quite a few people will be performing some type of Ramadan activity during this period.
My thoughts about Ramadan have been greatly inspired by Sultan Abdulhameed. I attended sessions, entitled “The Quran Discussion Group,“ in New York, which he organized. We would examine and give our personal interpretations of what particular Surahs and Ayats (chapters and verses in the Quran) mean to us. It was particularly mind-expanding. We were encouraged to share our personal insights. While not widely followed in much of Muslim society, at the time, the approach has been gathering traction. It reinforced my faith and I always departed these discussions with an improved understanding of the role I can play in making for a better world.
I first met Sultan in 2010 near the end of Ramadan, when I was trying to recover from a low point in my life. He had just authored a book, The Quran and the Life of Excellence. I later read it and am continually motivated by its contents to this day. I encourage all to obtain a copy. It will enhance your thinking…
Ramadan commemorates the time when the first verses of the Quran were revealed to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH, “peace, and blessings be upon him”) about 1400 years ago. It is considered a time to work on one’s Taqwa or self-restraint, to be consciously aware in the worship of God (SWT, “Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala,” or “Glory to Him, the Exalted”) and attain nearness to Him and in so doing, seek to become more pious.
I have always used this event as a time to refocus my energies on the discipline (or lack thereof) that has brought me this far on my journey. There have been good times as well as bad times. God (SWT) is praised for all of them (“Alhamdulillah”)! There were lessons to be taught, absorbed, and reflected on. I continue to cope and learn. I exclaim, “Allah-u-Alim!” (God (SWT) is the best teacher!)
Ramadan is the time when I especially try to work on my transformation process. Self-evaluating people learn to set goals for the future and map out a strategy for achieving them. “It is possible for everyone to move towards the life they want by making systematic changes month by month and year by year. A happy life is a balanced life and we can aim to succeed in all its aspects. Everyone’s life is different but some areas are important to most people”:
– Spiritual growth
– Happiness in personal relationships
– Quality of your health
– Financial freedom
– Professional success
For some Muslims, prayer may be an empty ritual. The mind can get easily distracted. There may be instances where people may be speaking words that they do not fully understand. How is this supposed to help transform anyone? Clarity improves thought evolution.
While English is my native language, my prayers are in Arabic and English. It takes a little extra effort but after almost 50 some odd years of reciting, my understanding is enhanced and my gesture remains sincere.
The five disciplines in fasting, which Muslims try to work on during Ramadan, are:
– Abstaining from food during daylight hours
– Abstaining from drink during daylight hours
– Abstaining from sexual activity during daylight hours
– Waking before dawn
– Self-evaluation or reflection
Admittedly, some of these disciplines are easier to adhere to than others but think about it, none of these are really that life-threatening for most people. This is about more than simply depriving oneself of the things that may give us pleasure or fulfillment. It has been said that “the straight path leads directly to God (SWT).” This, in turn, makes it less likely that one will succumb to assorted compulsive avoidances and addictions and will increase the likelihood that one will act wisely, ethically, and humanely. We must not yield to the potential irritability, which may occur.
Fasting is a powerful method of learning to be patient in adversity. I tend to view fasting as an attempt to gain better control over one’s nafs or ego. We learn about trying to develop a softer heart and feeling compassion (empathy) for those less fortunate. I recall a gentleman I met once from Syria. His “always cheerful” demeanor particularly struck me. He said that “Ramadan is like Christmas to Muslims!” He would smile and place holiday lights in his windows during that time of the year.
Happiness in Relationships
Have you ever had everything you could hope for and still felt something was missing? This was the mental state I was in during 2009. I thought I was a good person. I was in fairly good physical shape. I ate right. I was regularly mistaken for someone about ten years younger. I was very kind to my staff. I was generous in monetary contributions. My family life was not what I had expected it to be but I was in the process of changing it.
One day, while rising from my morning prayer (Fajr), I became dizzy and passed out. Due to other responsibilities, I waited four days before seeking medical attention. I was later diagnosed with a basal ganglia stroke! My speech was slurred, my coordination skills had deteriorated but I was lucky. I was told that the results could have been much worse had I not taken good care of my physical health. But matters did, in fact, continue to get worse. I was involved in a nasty divorce at the time. My mental health began to suffer. This jolly, happy go lucky fellow had developed severe depression! It was a time when I could see nothing good happening out of my current situation. I began to experience anxiety and could not sleep. All of my thoughts became very grim. It was as if all of the fighting spirits that had been cultivated during the decades of studying Kendo (the art of Japanese fencing) were suddenly sapped from my body. I lost all sense of hope and things did eventually get progressively more unpleasant. There were points when I actually considered suicide! I was in this state for a year before I was determined to get help.
I was later treated for a serotonin deficiency and encouraged to attend group therapy sessions for the depression. Finally, I had a scientific answer to what was affecting my moods. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter or hormone, which affects how you feel from a biochemical point of view. In its absence or lack of, you can experience loneliness and depression. Most antidepressants focus on the enhanced production of serotonin.
This was the beginning of a turning point in my life. It was at this time that I developed a greater sense of compassion for my fellow man and woman. Imagine a room full of people that were all more or less suffering from some form or type of depression. There was a New York City police officer, a Hasidic Jew, assorted people with chemical drug dependencies; adolescents with self inflicted cutting tendencies, abused housewives, and me. We all shared our stories and our plights. All of a sudden my particular problems seemed less important. I listened to the stories of these individuals and wished there was something I could do to make it easier for them but I was basically in the same boat.
I was able to survive this episode in my life based in large part based on the acknowledgment of the goodwill and support received from close friends, my children, and other family members. I began to realize the importance of my role in other people’s lives. There is a verse in the Quran, which says, “God (SWT) does not burden a soul beyond its capacity (2:286)” and a similar Biblical verse, “And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13).” The fact that I was able to endure these things has only strengthened my belief in God (SWT) and the trials and tests He may put us through. They are all there to make us stronger.
One night while offering my prayers, I asked God (SWT) for aid in finding that special mate, someone “to love forever and always, here on Earth and in Jannah.” After a worldwide search, much patience, and perseverance, I finally came across that special person, “the other half of my Deen.” Today my mind is sharp again. My spirit soars and I am truly grateful to God (SWT) for all that has happened. Alhamdulillah!
Quality of Health
Ramadan is the perfect time to start to get our health in order. An office assistant that once worked for me used to say that “deprivation builds character.” She was referring to her approach to child-raising but the statement holds much merit beyond its original use.
Research has shown that the mental focus achieved during Ramadan increases the level of brain-derived neurotrophic factors, which cause the body to produce more brain cells, thus improving brain function. Furthermore, a distinct reduction in the amount of the hormone cortisol, produced by the adrenal gland means that stress levels are greatly reduced both during and after Ramadan.
I can think of no better time to try and rid oneself of poor habits than Ramadan. Many of the vices like smoking and sugary foods should be avoided or restricted during this time. As you abstain from them your body will gradually acclimate itself to their absence, until your addiction is kicked for good.
The reduction of food eaten throughout the Ramadan period causes the stomach to gradually contract, meaning that you will have to consume less food before feeling full. By not eating during daylight hours you will also find that your metabolism becomes more efficient, meaning the number of nutrients absorbed for your food improves. This is because of an increase in a hormone called adiponectin, which is produced by the combination of fasting and eating late at night. It allows your muscles to absorb more nutrients. If you want to get in the habit of healthy eating, Ramadan is the perfect time to start.
I try to follow these suggestions in addition to pursuing a regular exercise routine. Ramadan is not a time to become lax or lazy!
We live in a society where money and finance play an important role in determining the conditions of people’s well-being. In many instances, it can lead to increased stress. Differences in the approach to handling finances often lead to marital discord. Following simple rules related to budgeting and investing a part of your income to help create future security can alleviate some of these problems. Establishing a plan to take advantage of investment opportunities should be a part of your strategy to build wealth. Finally, being charitably generous may also help multiply your wealth. “You can thrive by regularly giving away a portion of your income to worthwhile causes. The Quran mandates 2.5% or more.”
Once you realize how easy it is to identify the sources of routine frivolous expenditures and begin to reduce them, it will be that much easier to work towards achieving your financial goals.
A lot of people are unhappy with the jobs they hold. This could be due to unclear choices made earlier in life. It could have been due to jobs taken out of necessity rather than choice. In either event, if you are not happy, develop a plan to change your situation.
As circumstances may change, some professions may disappear and others may thrive. You can take action by planning to change your conditions. There are books that you can read, workshops that you can attend and there is the Internet. Only those who pro-actively plan their careers continue to do well in changing circumstances.
I am now retired but in the past, I viewed my work as “love in action.” I had a passion for what I did (make people money, ethically). I had been blessed with having benefited from a good education and had applied the skills learned in successfully having chosen a fairly good career. Today, my thought process has evolved. The challenge is in being motivated not by external rewards so much as by self-expression and service to humanity.
We are in the time of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic crisis. People’s lifestyles, relationships, habits, and income sources may have to change. At the time of this writing, over 50,000 people have passed in the U.S., directly related to this virus. At present, there is no cure or vaccine on the horizon. Perhaps this can serve as an opportunity to “get in touch with God (SWT).”
A Time to Recalibrate One’s GPS!
In summing up what Ramadan means to me, it is a time of self-assessment, a time to check your GPS to determine if you have strayed too far off course and still have time to correct it. Some may view it as just another ritual, but it is far more than that. It is spiritual. It is scientific. It is beneficial to your health and will help you reach your long term goals. It can provide a time in planning to improve one’s life and hopefully also move closer to God (SWT). As cited earlier: God (SWT) is the best teacher! (Allah-u-Alim!)
Sources of Inspiration
- Abdulhameed, Sultan. The Quran and the Life of Excellence. N.p: Outskirts, 2010. Print
- ‘Abd al-Haqq via Sufis Without Borders Yahoo Group
- “7 Surprising Health Benefits of Ramadan.”Realbuzz 4. N.p., 20 July 2012. Web.
- Bolt, Laurence G. Zen and the Art of Making a Living: A Practical Guide to Creative Career Design. Penguin Group, 1999. Print