O YOU who have attained to faith! Fasting is ordained for you as it was ordained for those before you, so that you might remain conscious of God. [2:183]
The holy month of Ramadan is nigh, encroaching at the speed of light. The hilal – the crescent moon, the image which has become so symbolic of Islam (though, historically, I’m pretty sure it was a Byzantine Christian symbol prior to the Muslim Turks conquering Constantinople) – will signify its beginning in the coming days. This approaching month of sawm (fasting, abstaining from food, drink, and sexual intercourse with your spouse while the sun is out), patience, and perseverance has become my favorite part of the year, perhaps akin to Christmas for most Christians, though in my case, as with many others, no gift exchanging is involved.
Those unfamiliar with Islam and with the tradition of fasting might wonder how could such a seemingly masochistic and anachronistic observance of ritual fasting be deemed one’s favorite time of the year when compared to – say – presents at Christian time. To this, I can only riposte with the above verse from the Noble Qur’an: the willful and mindful (the mindfulness of it all is the kicker, for without mindfulness, you’re just emptying your stomach) abnegation of physical sustenance is met to connect the observer to God and to the righteous, God-fearing souls of the past: according to Christian resources, Prophet Jesus عليه السلام fasted for forty days and forty nights in the wilderness prior to commencing his ministry, hence the tradition of Lent in Catholicism; in Islam, there is a tradition promulgated by Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم concerning Prophet David عليه السلام, who is said to have alternated the days he fasted, one after another; and Prophet Moses عليه السلام, in the Old Testament, is said to have fasted before receiving the Ten Commandments. However masochistic and anachronistic fasting may appear, the act puts one in league with the best examples of humanity, the Prophets and the sages, both men and women; it is part and parcel of spiritual burgeoning and has been so for quite some time.
After roaming throughout Turkey for much of Sha’bān (the lunar month preceding the month of Ramadan, the month reserved for preparation), and after having lost ten pounds of muscle due to atrophy, I admit that I’m scarcely prepared for the physical rigors and mental discipline required of the fasting and mild asceticism, especially since I don’t halt my exercise routines, and indeed, even amplify them. I’ve been working feverishly since returning from Turkey to prepare my body the onslaught. As for my incorporeal self, my mind or my soul as it were (I guess I’m giving too much credence to Neoplatonic conceptions here, which I usually try not to do, so bear with me), it too requires much honing for the days to come, maybe even more than my body does; but in truth, any amount of preparation, mental or otherwise, is inadequate for the experience, because, as with anything else governed in time and circumstance, each year – if you are even fortunate enough to see another Ramadan – the experience changes and it therefore changes you, if you are receptive enough within your own self to recognize the alterations. (This of course doesn’t mean all means of preparation are futile). For me – and God knows best! – this iteration of metamorphosis makes it impossible truly to prepare to the blessing, and most importantly, the experience that is Ramadan.
Despite my inauspicious circumstances of currently being unemployed, exacerbated no less in my apprehension of the stereotype about Black men as being lazy and good-for-nothing, I have much to be thankful for, chief among them being my youth, health, strength, and iman, however fragile and oscillatory these may be. And although lack of food and water will make one appreciate the gifts of Providence, the Qur’an assures us human beings that we can never enumerate the blessings we’ve been granted, for they are far too numerous and expansive for own limited minds to calculate.
And (always) does He give you something out of what you may be asking of Him; and should you try to count God’s blessings, you could never compute them. (And yet,) behold, man is indeed most persistent in wrongdoing, stubbornly ingrate! [14:34]
I am looking forward to the Ramadan nights of silent prayer, of being with my Lord in the finite infinity of silence and solitude during the twilight hours of this special month. I am not perfect, a mere master piece in the making, a work in progress, but I have purpose, a purpose whose focal point rests in prostration, when my forehand rest upon the earth which is my Mother. I have much to atone for, much ameliorating to do; and yet, I know even these very things I discuss within myself too much and with my Lord not nearly enough. When the crescent moon is spotted, I hope to begin to reflect on my past failures and to lay that which so ails my consciousness before my Lord is all honesty and candor. My stomach, at that time, may be empty, my throat dry, and my breath smelly (fasting makes your breath stink), but hopefully, my Lord will see the sincerity of my actions, and will efface my sins.
Insha’Allah, He will efface of all our sins and guide us all unto Himself.