Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar which follows the lunar cycles throughout the year.
Since Ramadan rotates throughout the year, sometimes sunset in the middle of the winter season is at 5 p.m. and in the summer it can be at 9 p.m. We still love it either way as it is the holiest and most blessed month for Muslims observing around the world.
From a physical aspect, Muslims abstain from food, drink and spousal relations from dawn to sunset. However, fasting is more than just a physical deprivation as explained in the Quran.
“Oh you who believe! Fasting is prescribed upon you – as it was prescribed on the people before you – so that you may attain piety” [Quran 2:183].
When reading the verse above, the word “prescribed” in Arabic is katabah, which means to receive a prescription from a doctor. In the same way, the month of Ramadan for Muslims is an annual vaccination for the heart.
According to Rumi, the spiritual effect of Ramadan is magical; there is something magical about an empty stomach.
We start seeing with the eyes of the divine, figuratively speaking, with the eyes reflecting mercy and empathy. We give with the hands of the divine, figuratively speaking, and give charity with generosity. We walk with the feet of the divine, figuratively speaking, and walk to places of righteousness.
Furthermore, Rumi expressed how the body is like a box of music that is stuffed; once you un-stuff it, or empty it, the music will flow beautifully. In the same way, Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, described fasting as a shield and as a vaccine from sin.
In Ramadan, there is a vaccine and a booster shot. It is more than a month of physical challenges, but rather, Ramadan serves a greater purpose for those who observe this holy month.
Relating back to the Quranic verse, it is said that fasting was prescribed to Muslims. When we refer to “oh you who believe” in the beginning of the verse, we are referring to the descendants of Abraham and believers of the Abrahamic faiths.
Prophethood started with Abraham and his wife, Hagar, and their son Ishmael. From the beginning, Jews, Christians and Muslims have been connected as we are all truly brothers from different mothers.
As God Almighty prescribed fasting to Muslims, it was also prescribed to those before the birth of Islam. Moses fasted for 40 days and Jesus also fasted; this proves that this prescription of fasting has been given over and over.
Fasting, along with prayers, is considered to be “thriving prayers,” and thriving prayers have a powerful effect on the heart and the soul.
In the last piece of the verse given above, the end result of Ramadan is for Muslims to attain piety. Piety is defined in the Quran as our relationship with God. The closer we get to God, the more God takes over.
Just like how a software virus takes control and starts to distress your hard drives, the month of Ramadan acts as the anti-virus software that protects our being and connection with God.
At the end of the day, Ramadan gives us that energy to start seeing the straight path not just with our heart, but also with our soul.
Psychology teaches us not to go grocery shopping while hungry. In the same way, during the month of Ramadan, God enjoins on us to look after the poor and needy while we’re hungry.
Thus, the drink of water that we take when we break our fast not only quenches our thirst, but it also softens our hearts, and we give with the hands of generosity and see with the eyes of mercy.
The Prophet beautifully summarizes the month of Ramadan as a month of mercy, forgiveness and pardoning and thus he commands us to have mercy on others, forgive others and to, eventually, pardon others.
May this month bring about healing, blessings and peace to all.
Senior Imam at the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City, and chair of Islamic Studies at Wimberly School of Religion at Oklahoma City University. He is the author of Cloud Miles: A Remarkable Journey of Mercy, Peace and Purpose, and appeared in the short documentary “Mercy” (2018) and the feature-length documentary, “Different Books, Common Word: Baptists and Muslims” (2010).