Sunday, August 15, 2010

Are we losing the True Spirit of Ramadhan?

Are we losing the True Spirit of Ramadhan?
By Shelina Zahra Janmohamed

Condensed version

Abstaining from physical intake during daylight hours – which means food, drink, and sex – with the intention of getting closer to the Divine, has a myriad of philosophies and meanings.
It allows appreciation of the suffering of the poor and hungry, a chance to devote less time to the physical and more time to the spiritual, a recognition that we can live happily and successfully with less than we have.
The philosophy of restraint and frugality adhered to during the day has its mirror image in the excessive culinary indulgence after dark.

Instead of cutting back on the desire to consume, we end up with heightened consumption in these 30 days, whether that be in restaurants or in retail.

Countries where Muslims are minorities.

In these countries, if you are fasting you have to make an active choice to go against the grain of mainstream society. You still have to go to work where you can stare longingly at your colleagues drinking coffee, or attend meetings, which run across the iftar time. You have to really know and understand why you are fasting, rather than just being swept up in the maelstrom. There is a sense of community purpose in these countries and an overwhelming push towards spiritual success.

You do not have to be religious to appreciate that the social and ethical meanings of festivals such as Christmas, Ramadhan and Eid have a great deal to contribute to the morality of human society.

But Ramadan should be about more than gluttony, shopping and vacuous entertainment.

We do in fact need to recognize and acknowledge the place of Ramadhan’s material pleasures. By being honest about the importance of the physical, we can de-prioritize it in favor of the spiritual and moral at least for the 30 days of Ramadhan.

This DE-prioritization is what makes Ramadhan special in the first place. By withholding the importance of the physical self, Ramadhan is about recognizing the importance of our individual spirit, and about finding our place as souls, not bodies, in the society in which we live.

Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is a British commentator on Islam and author of Love in a Headscarf, a new memoir of growing up as a Muslim woman

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