I have a very dear friend who is Muslim.
Right now, he is almost precisely in the middle of the holy month of Ramadan. I know almost nothing about Ramadan or its observance. I am not familiar with its traditions. I have only a vague understanding of the beliefs and teachings involved. My friend has told me a bit, of course, and he is always happy to answer all of my (sometime strange, occasionally random, and often silly) questions. I resorted to the mystical art of Googlemancy for whatever other bits of information I have.
I admire the dedication and discipline involved. I am reasonably certain that I would fail miserably at the proper observation of Ramadan as my own self-discipline is sorely lacking at the best of times and very often completely non-existent.
My only experience of Ramadan is what I observe of my friend, and today, after speaking with him for a few minutes, I am sorry to admit, I had this unlovely and unflattering thought:
I am not loving this Ramadan business.
You see, my friend is usually exceptionally charming, he’s clever, he laughs and makes me laugh with him. Today, he was exhausted from the fasting—two weeks of it and still another (almost) two to go. He is withdrawn, melancholy … Silent.
I’m Christian and have little context into which to place the strictness with which Muslims observe the fast. Even Lent (though I am not Catholic and, therefore, have only a little more experience with that) is not nearly so structured and carefully observed as what I see in my friend’s Ramadan observance. No meat on Fridays and giving up one of your vices is hardly comparable to approximately 30 days during which you neither eat nor drink anything (ANYTHING) between sunrise and sunset.
What I saw—the thing that prompted my unlovely thought—was that all the life seemed drained and draining out of my friend. What seemed to be a bit of discomfort for him in the beginning now seems like a trial that takes all of his beautiful energy and leaves him a shadow of who I know him to be.
But then I remembered something. It was a small thing, maybe, if it’s something you’re used to seeing all the time. I’m sure my friend thought nothing of it when it happened, but its impact on me was profound. You see, I was privileged, one evening, to witness my friend’s father performing his prayers after the evening meal. Kneeling, then standing, then kneeling again. Eyes closed, his lips moving in the recitation of a silent prayer. Calm devotion poured off him and filled the space. His prayer filled the room.
It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever had the honor of witnessing.
So today, after the unlovely thought, I remembered that night—I remembered watching my friend’s father pray—and I had another thought:
Maybe that’s the point.
Or part of it anyway. This draining away of the self to make room for Allah. The emptying of personal energy so that one can then be filled with the Divine.
I still can’t say I’m loving Ramadan. It’s a bit selfish of me, I know. It is a failing in myself, and one I’ll continue to work on. But I can say I respect the holy month of Ramadan and its observance all the more for that glimpse of understanding.