by Arsalan Iftikhar
For over a billion Muslims worldwide, the Islamic holy month of Ramadan is a time of physical and spiritual cleansing.
For this Muslim guy, these are some of the things that I love most about our holy month of Ramadan:
- Caffeine-Free Living: Every year, I am quickly reminded about how strong my addiction to caffeine has become over the years. To be honest, eating and drinking for 14 hours every day is not a big deal; but man, those caffeine headaches are pretty brutal during Ramadan.
- Charity Champions: Did you know that Muslims are the most charitable religious group in the United Kingdom? According to the UK’s Charity Commission, Muslims were the most generous religious demographic group in the country (followed by Christians, Jews & Atheists). Another report found that Muslims give twice as much as the average Briton, all year round. Zarine Kharas, chief executive of JustGiving, once told The Times of London: â€œOur data shows many of Britainâ€™s Muslim communities are at the forefront of digital giving, driving an increase in zakat donations.â€ Farooq Murad, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, also once said: â€œIt highlights the true spirit and reality of Islam in Britain, in caring not just for the community but also humanity at large and supporting humanitarian causesâ€ during the month of Ramadan.
- “Please Eat My Food”: The vast majority of people who have traveled to a Muslim country will rave about the overt hospitality to guests when it comes to sharing meals. During Ramadan, the act of feeding guests (and feeding them excessively) – is as much a part of worshipping God as fasting and praying every day. According to well-known hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), it is reported that he once said: “He who gives water as iftar to a fasting person in Ramadan becomes as sinless as the day his mother bore him.” So if you’re new in town or a traveler during this month, or live alone, just let a Muslim family know and you’ll soon find that you’re their honored guest this month.
- Nightly Marathon Prayers: One of my favorite parts of Ramadan are the special daily night prayers (called “taraweeh”) in which the entire Quran is read during the span of the month. These nightly prayers help keep the Ramadan spirit strong by reviving the congregational camaraderie of family and community. The nice thing is even if you do not usually go to the mosque- by the wonders of the Internet- you can watch live-stream prayers from around the world in the comfort of your very own home.
- Healthier Eating: An important (and often overlooked) part of eating halal, is eating tayyib (or “good”) wholesome foods. During Ramadan, when you are fasting during the daylight hours, more attention is paid to what you are nourishing your body and mind with during the pre-dawn and sunset meals twice a day. This usually means that we will eat less processed foods, more organic dairy, tons of fresh fruits and vegetables, and gulping down gallons of water.
- The Diversity of Islam: American Islam (or Western Islam) is accentuated and fully palpable during this month as well. Muslims absorb and bring out the best of every culture and create our own traditions during this month every year. We have an Islam that is authentically American, just like there is British Islam, Chinese Islam, South African Islam and more. The fabric of American Islam includes African-Americans brought over on slave ships, to the Lebanese who came to build the railways, to the more recent Muslim immigrants in every color and every wake of life and the converts from every possible ethnicity, we have a uniquely American experience of Islam. This is never more obvious to me than during Ramadan, when we pray alongside a cross section sample of humankind every night and experience a smorgasbord of foods and traditions from every corner of the globe.
- The Night of Power: During the last 10 days of Ramadan every year is the “Night of Power” (known as Lailatul Qadr in e Arabic). According to Islamic tradition, the Quran was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) by the archangel Gabriel. Many Muslims around the world commemorate this night every year by praying all night long until sunrise either at their mosque with hundreds of their friends or alone on their prayer rug next to their bed.
- Water, Water, Water: Seriously though, I truly believe that water is the most appreciated commodity (over food) during the month of Ramadan. We rarely realize how dehydrated we become internally when we cannot drink water all day long. This leads to loss of energy, daytime sleepiness and overall fatigue. At sunset, that first sip of ice-cold water is like manna from heaven and we should remember there are millions of impoverished people around the world who do not even have access to clean water wells on a daily basis.
- Family Ties: Whether it is rubbing your eyeballs to the kitchen table for the pre-dawn suhoor meal or trying to get the best seat at the dinner table for the sunset iftar fast-breaking meal, this month is also the time to rekindle family ties as well. In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, we do not often get a chance to slow down and interact with our loved ones. Since everything is slowed down during Ramadan, let us use this opportunity to Skype or WhatsApp family members in distant parts of the world to help strengthen the bonds of family in this time meant for reflection and self-awareness.
- The Muslim Version of Christmas: After 30 (or so) days of fasting, Muslims all over the world celebrate Eid Al-Fitr which commemorates the end of Ramadan. There is a congregational Eid prayer where local communities gather and afterwards, you run around looking for your friends and families to awkwardly hug them (2 or) 3 times on each side of their body. After the prayer is over, we visit our family and friends homes filled with amazing food while people receive gifts & money from their loved ones in our Muslim version of Christmas to commemorate the greatest month every calendar year for Muslims around the world.
Arsalan Iftikhar is the founder of TheMuslimGuy.com and brand ambassador for Penny Appeal USA.