Ramadan: A Fast Track To A Larger World

Vertical Muslim prays during Ramadan i i

hide captionA Muslim prays at a mosque during the holy month of Ramadan in Manila on August 23, 2009. Muslims entered the fasting and feasting month of Ramadan on August 22 in North America.

Junie Doctor/Getty Images
Vertical Muslim prays during Ramadan

A Muslim prays at a mosque during the holy month of Ramadan in Manila on August 23, 2009. Muslims entered the fasting and feasting month of Ramadan on August 22 in North America.

Junie Doctor/Getty Images

Ramadan arrived in August this year. I'd grown accustomed to the Muslim month of fasting being an autumn affair. But because Ramadan follows the lunar calendar — moving back about ten days every year — the dawn prayer preparations are even earlier and the dusk fast-breaking meal later. It is a dramatic break from my normal routine.

Usually, I start thinking about my second cup of coffee before I'm barely halfway through my first. When I cannot decide between sweet and savory at breakfast, I order both. I don't have particularly caviar tastes, but like most middle-class Americans, if I want an iced tea in the afternoon, I go out and buy one. I live in the land of serial small desires, serially satisfied — and most of them revolve around food and drink. Eating is the way I pass my time, and how I plan my day.

But Ramadan is another country. And like any experience of elsewhere, the biggest difference lies not in the change in landscape, but in the altered perspective of the traveler.

My system slows down during Ramadan — it's the only way to make it through the day. I find myself noticing things I otherwise wouldn't, and feeling connected in ways I usually don't.

I pay attention to the hopeful look on the face of the guy selling bottles of water in the middle of Western Avenue. I'm walking too slowly to use the, "I don't have time excuse," with the woman selling the homeless newspaper on the corner. So I stop and buy a paper and ask how her day is going.

I remember one Ramadan when I was in college, walking out of an afternoon class, feeling my energy fading fast, and starting to feel a little sorry for myself. I overheard a classmate blithely say to a friend, "I'm starving, I haven't eaten since breakfast."

The line shocked me back into a kind of clarity. "You're not starving," I thought to myself. "And I may be very hungry right now, but I'm not starving either."

It's not the kind of thought I would have had at any other time of year, whether I skipped lunch or not.

Eboo Patel i i

hide captionEboo Patel is the Executive Director of the Interfaith Youth Core and the author of Acts of Faith.

Courtesy of Eboo Patel
Eboo Patel

Eboo Patel is the Executive Director of the Interfaith Youth Core and the author of Acts of Faith.

Courtesy of Eboo Patel

Frankly, if it was up to me, I wouldn't choose Ramadan. If I didn't feel required to fast, I probably wouldn't. That afternoon iced tea would keep calling my name, and I'd keep answering.

But after a while, I find something spiritually numbing about constantly getting what I want. It feels like I'm building a world that revolves around fulfilling my minor wishes. I know, intellectually, that I'm not the center of the universe, but my daily routine around food sure indicates otherwise. If it wasn't for Ramadan, I would just keep repeating that pattern every day, all year, for the rest of my life. And my world would feel smaller and smaller.

Ramadan is an expansion. Knowing that I am not allowed to eat or drink, I find different things to look forward to. I read more, and I pray more, and I spend more time with the people that I love most.

I find myself strangely grateful for my hunger and thirst, for the opportunity to put at the center of the universe something larger than my desire for a second cup of coffee.

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