Fasting helps achieve new spiritual goals

By Aziz Junejo | Aug 01, 2012

Ramadan, the month of fasting for Muslims is in its second week. It’s an annual opportunity to practice self-control, cleanse the body, mind and soul and feel the peace that comes from intense spiritual devotion.

During this most sacred time of year, most Muslims abstain from food, drink, sex and other temptations from dawn to sundown for a month. Each day, we devoutly read, recite aloud, and reflect on the complete Quran.

It’s the month Muslims believe God revealed the first verses of the Holy Quran to the Prophet Muhammad. God promises Muslims who fast for the whole month that all their sins will be forgiven.

Fasting during the month of Ramadan is to purify our souls. We avoid the worldly pleasures that encircle our daily lives and strive through self-sacrifice and devotion to get nearer to God seeking His forgiveness for what we have done knowingly and unknowingly.

Ramadan is also a time when we make an extra effort to nurture and cherish the kinship of family and fellow believers. For the Muslim community, it is an incomparable month of blessing.

Through a multitude of prayers, persistent fasting, obligatory patience, and generous charity, just to name a few of the practices of Ramadan, we find spiritual fulfillment.

At home, we anticipate the annual 30 days of ritual with joy and enthusiasm. For us, this month of spiritual renewal is filled with exceptional family time, congregational prayers, nightly spiritual discussions and delightful meals together.

As you may imagine, breakfasts and dinners are particularly cherished and treasured during this month of fasting.

Every member of the family is consistently present at the dinning room table at about 2:30 a.m. for the meal before sunrise and again near sunset at around 9 p.m. for dinner, the communal meal known as “iftar” in Arabic. The fasts are long; close to 18 hours.

After the sun has set, we usually break our fast with sweet jumbo California dates and a glass of water since you are really thirstier than anything else. This provides an immediate energy boost to help us through our nightly prayers.

After we’ve recited a short prayer together, our iftar meal (carefully mapped out in advance) provides us a great time for everyone to catch up and share how each of our fasts are coming along.

Fasting serves many purposes, we try to enrich our experience of Ramadan each night by providing themed dinners, for example, why do we need God in our lives, what are some creative ways to show compassion in our everyday life, and what is the benefit to us by helping the world’s poor.

Toward the end of Ramadan, the theme shifts to the suffering of the world’s poor and our commitment to improving their lives through charity, good works and prayer. We hope that by heightening our awareness of those less fortunate, it reminds us that we need to always be kind and generous, not just during Ramadan but all through our lives.

Muslims are always obligated to share their wealth by feeding the poor, especially during this month. We are commanded by God to give 2.5 percent of our income to charity each year.

The last week of Ramadan we give to our local Mosque a donation for the poor. This payment, called Zakat, is the fourth of Islam’s five pillars. The money will be distributed to the needy before the last day of Ramadan.

I have always used Ramadan as an exercise in achieving new spiritual and behavioral goals, goals that I hope will last me throughout the year, ideally for life. The ritual of fasting is a “spiritual journey” few can know or understand without experiencing it.

When the deprivation of nourishment is layered with strict rules of behavior exclusively for the pleasure of God, the experience is moving beyond words.

Having already achieved a higher level of peace and contentment in my life this past month, I have started to slow down in order to daily ponder God’s magnificent creation and more deeply appreciate its splendor.

Throughout time, God has always smiled on ALL those who fasted devoutly for Him alone. Acts of worship, such as fasting, can be a time of reflection and renewal in faith.

Each year, it brings me closer to God and provides me with a deeper, more meaningful relationship with our creator, and isn’t that what we all seek in life?

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