’Good and evil are not equal. Repel evil with good and you will find that your enemy has become your close friend’ (41:34)

By the time this edition of the paper is out on the newsstands, Muslim households would be busily preparing for the most anticipated month in the Islamic calendar, the advent of Ramadhan. The exact date Ramadhan would begin is always debated, but calendars show that Sunday, May 28 could likely be the first fast of the faithful.

Ramadhan or ‘sawm’ as it’s referred to in Arabia is the fourth pillar of Islam. (Like Buddhism and other religions, Islam is based on fundamental pillars that each believer is expected to adhere to). It is also during this month of Ramadhan that the holy Qur’an was revealed and the prophethood of the last prophet in Islam, Muhammad was established.

Looking at it from the outside in, many assume that Ramadhan means abstaining from eating or drinking from dawn to dusk, however this simple act of which requires oodles of patience, perseverance and faith holds deeper meaning for every Muslim.

Yes, fasting is beneficial to health but more than that, it is regarded principally as a method of self purification. By cutting oneself off from worldly comforts, even for a short time, a fasting person finds true empathy for those who go hungry as well as growth in one’s spiritual life.

The month of Ramadhan for Muslims is a time for reflection and repentance, allowing them to reorient themselves and remember what is truly important in their lives. Today, in a world which is becoming increasingly intolerant, impatient and inconsiderate, people tend to forget that there is more to life than deadlines and quick fixes. Personal relationships with friends and family, especially one’s personal relationship with the Almighty Allah, and the responsibilities that come with these relationships are sometimes neglected in favour of passivity and complacence.

When life is moving at such a breakneck speed, Ramadhan is that time when Muslims stop and think. Bear in mind that fasting requires a lot of self-discipline and self-restraint. For instance Muslims are expected to be more mindful of what they utter and to whom. What they do and why. So before we plug in our receivers to watch the latest movie, we pause to think of other ways we could spend our time, like reading the Qur’an or praying.

The Arabic word for ‘fasting’ means ‘to refrain’ and it means not only refraining from food and drink, but also from evil actions, thoughts and words too. Most Muslims know too well that swearing, speaking ill and indulging in insensible conversations could make our fast void. So don’t be surprised to find your Muslim colleagues becoming rather reserved or speaking less to you during this month, they may very well be trying to exercise a sense of self-discipline and concern themselves with matters that are only important. It is after all a teaching of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessings be upon him) that a Muslim should only concern himself or herself with matters that concern themselves. Muslims go to great lengths to practice this teaching during this month.

So essentially, they are obeying the Almighty Allah, reading the Qur’an perhaps – Muslims are encouraged to read the Qur’an from cover to cover during this month and reflect on the meaning of the verses – becoming spiritually strong, appreciating the blessings of Almighty Allah. We do, we simply cannot wait to break our fast and when we do, we’re truly grateful for the food, realising the value of charity and generosity and sharing in the suffering of the poor and the needy.

Muslims also tend to visit their relations or friends more this month and spend time at their homes. It’s not unusual even for non-Muslims to be invited to ‘Iftar’ at a Muslim household, just be prepared to eat well! It’s a believer’s way of saying that we invite you to our home and our family and to partake in our special meal. Most of the time, even if you are not invited, you’d probably be sent a bowl of hot, steaming porridge or Wattalapam (dessert made of egg and jaggery) on Eid. If you find these behaviours queer, know it’s just a Muslim’s way of obeying Allah and the scriptures.

If you are a non-Muslim reading this, you’d probably wish Ramadhan came often and may even think that after all these years, it would get easier for Muslims to fast. But you are wrong. Even after years of observance, Ramadhan doesn’t get easier.

The physical challenges that come with a month-long fast is the easiest part of observing Ramadhan. It is the fasting which involves the mind and the spirit which requires more willpower and dedication – the ‘fasting’ of impatience, the avoidance of anger, the conscious effort to withdraw from easy relief and thoughtless action.

Consequently, every year, Ramadhan comes around, and while Muslims anticipate it with bated breath, it is a difficult period as well. As mentioned earlier, every part of our body must be restrained. The tongue must be restrained from gossiping and speaking ill. The eyes must be restrained from looking at unlawful things. The hand must give more in charity and not touch or take anything that does not belong to it. The ears must refrain from listening to idle talk or obscene words. In a way, every part of the body observes the fast.

Therefore, fasting is not merely physical but is rather a commitment of the person’s body and soul to the spirit of the fast. Religion, after all, is a personal relationship between God and the person. Ramadhan is one part of this process. Nation wishes its readers a blessed Ramadhan!