Yesterday, as I lay in the bed sick (caught a cold this past weekend) I was reflecting on Ramadan and what it all means. Granted, you don’t have to come to this site to get any insight into the meaning of Ramadan btw 🙂 . I was just pondering life in general and my experience as a Muslim now celebrating my 8th Ramadan. You seem to reflect alot when you have ample time starring at the ceiling of your bedroom, but I’m getting off topic…
Anyway, I met with some of my non-Muslim family this past weekend and they “couldn’t believe” how one could go all day without food or drink and at the same time try their hardest to remain calm and pleasant for “a whole month”. I just smirked a little and kept the conversation as unreligious (yeah new word) as possible, which has become habitual for me around my family, I learned the hard way in the early years….. and in so many words just stated that Ramadan comes with the territory of being a Muslim. I know, I know, I missed a wonderful Dawa opportunity, but if you came from a very Christian family like I do, you would know that often discretion is the best way to keep family relations.
At any rate, I was thinking about that conversation yesterday and I began to really thank God for Ramadan. The more I study Islam, the more apparent to me that Islam is like an onion. (yes I’m leaving myself open for all the non-Muslim and anti-Muslim crowd to make jokes) Islam has so many layers that while you may think you have it on the surface you may look at it and think you know all about it, if you peel off a layer you may find that there is more and more to Islam than what’s on the surface. (I may come to regret this analogy later 🙂 )
My point is, during my reflection I marveled at how in my early days as a Muslim I initially took Ramadan as a yearly ritual for the textbook reasons i.e. the month the Qur’an was revealed, blessings due to fasting, unity among the haves and have nots, etc. But now, with each passing Ramadan, new layers are becoming clearer to me so much so, that I look forward to Ramadan each and every year.
Back to the main point:
As I reflected on the comments my family made I truly felt blessed to be a Muslim. Not because there is anything inherently bad with being a Christian, nor because I feel there is something wrong with my family….well some of them :), but because it made me appreciate the discipline that is required to be a Muslim. As good of a Christian as I once thought myself to be (and the fact that I’m Muslim now, others may beg to differ) with all the studying, Church attendance, ministering, etc. etc. I did, the one thing that I can now see is that the religion in of itself doesn’t have much discipline. Surely there are Christians who are very disciplined, but as a theology, it never really encouraged discipline as a necessary practice. I mean, you could pray when, how, etc. you wanted or not at all, you could choose or choose not to go to Church, fasting wasn’t clearly defined, and if you did something wrong, you were already “forgiven” so all you had to do was ask for forgiveness to Jesus (as). Now for some, actually many, this is perfectly OK and there is no problem with that, and I’m not judging or mocking. Some Christian denominations and sects vary on some of these things and I don’t mean to over generalize. But I was brought up on the doctrine of “grace” and to me as I reflect now, it just seemed a little too easy. Maybe that’s why I was so intense in my Biblical studies and tried to milk my Grandfather of every once of knowledge he had. In hindsight, maybe I studied so much as to somehow compensate for the lack of discipline that was required on a daily basis. Now some may be mad at me for these words, but the truth is at least from my experience, you have some Christians who were/are like I was, who studied the Bible daily, found something Church related to do at least 4 times a week and tried their very best to as my grandfather would say “keep their powder dry” 🙂 but the reality is, the majority of Christians do not behave in this manner. The majority God bless them, believe in the doctrines, but as far as practice some are “EMC” Christians i.e. only go to church on Easter, Mother’s Day (maybe), and sometimes on Christmas. A sizable chunk do “worldly” things and tend to only mention Jesus (as) when their in trouble, accepting an award, or if asked what do they believe. I have a working theory, that the majority of Christians couldn’t even articulate the exact doctrine they believe and why. Most don’t even know anything about Christian history and terms like Synoptic, Exegesis, Nicea, Anathasius, etc. would fly over most heads. Now again, I’m not mocking Christians as many mean well and as the Qur’an states among Christians you would find some of the most pious people in this world, I’m just eventually getting to a point.
Now where was I?….
Discipline. As a Christian and hindsight is 20/20, it was never actually taught in practice that being a Christian was more than a belief. Now many can point to countless sermons given by their Pastor to the contrary, and so can I, but the reality is that no matter what the Pastor, Deacon, etc. stated on Sunday, many Christians accept that their religion is “faith-based” and not based on “works” a common refrain in the Church btw, many will even state “works won’t get you into heaven” which btw, is paraphrasing Romans 10:9 which basically states what I believe is the fundamental problem with Christians that belief alone is enough to get into heaven. Now I could insert a comment from James, but I’m not trying to debate right now. My point is that this fundamental teaching that most Christians follow that all they have to do is believe promotes a theology and worldview that adds to the “strangeness” supposedly of Islam.
The reason why my family can’t grasp the concept of or think that it’s excessive that one would fast from 6 something in the morning until almost 8 at night not having food or drink for roughly 30 days is due to their teaching which doesn’t really require much of the believer. I’m not knocking them, or blame them because that is all they know. My Grandmother for instance God bless her, still doesn’t understand what I call “My God” and why, she asked me the other day “don’t you call your God Jehovah?” 🙂
What I’m getting at 1100 plus words into this diatribe, is that I thought the same way when I first became a Muslim, because I didn’t know any better. I mean I appreciated “rules” like Islam has (guess it’s a Marine thing) but I often thought Ramadan was a little excessive too. Even learning the why (textbook) definition, it took some getting used to. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t look forward to Ramadan at all those first few years. However, looking back and reflecting, I really thank God for giving me insight and leading down a path that would make me “strange” to my family. I appreciate every little hunger pain, fatigue, etc. instead of feeling bad when I get a little thirsty or hungry, now I get happy. Ramadan to me these days is a time where I reinforce my faith and practice. At the end of Ramadan I no longer feel glad that it’s over, but I feel like I proved to myself yet another year that I truly believe. Fasting has that effect in general which is why most religions teach it (regardless if it’s actually practiced). Fasting is a time to spiritually and physically cleanse oneself of all the negativity, worldly issues, and physical toxins. Fasting encourages discipline through practice and the reinforcing of ones faith. When the Muslim states “Ash hado” I bear witness, to me bearing witness means that you are a walking testament to that which you stake your claim. Ramadan to me best exemplifies that. An entire month of fasting, extra prayers, and charity makes me increasingly glad I am a Muslim.
I love being “strange” because in a weird way while they may feel “sorry” for me, I actually feel sorry for them, because they don’t know the joy of what it means to actually practice what they preach. The majority of the Christians I know and have met while they may state they believe, I’m not certain if Jesus (as) were to come back today would state so. Many Christians my family included think we are weird because we dress a certain way,act a certain way, eat a certain way, pray a certain way, once a year try to outdo ourselves by fasting an entire month among other things, and on top of all that try to at least once in our life go to the desert to walk around a black box. 🙂
But what they perceive as weird is only weird because they don’t understand what it means to be disciplined. I could go into the Sergeant of Marines speech on discipline but I will save that for another posting. To me, to have religion with such order and practice as fundamental to your faith, means that we understand that we have to work to get into heaven. It means that each and every Muslim as a matter of teaching should reflect what they claim to believe. Ramadan is a yearly month long testament that we do just that. I can’t speak for all Muslims, but for this one Muslim I love every minute of it. I love being able to have an inner faith and an outer testament to that faith. I love that my every physical action should be a testament to my belief in God. Even our language: Alhumdulillah, Subhannallah, Mashallah, Inshallah, as daily conversational speech amazes me even to this day.
In a nutshell, I guess as I reflect today 8 years later I’m just as intense and joyful in my love for Islam and thankful to God for leading to Islam as I was in the beginning. To me, the day before Ramadan is like Christmas-eve in my childhood. Except that now I have an entire month of Christmas even though I have to work for my gifts 🙂