Tryst with Faith…

The holy month of Ramzan is all set to bid good-bye. Today being the final Friday of the holy month, when the Muslims around the world would get to intensify their prayers doing self-enquiry as to whether they entertained the holy ‘guest’ with reverence, adhering to the prescriptions laid down in the Holy Quran, let’s take a peep into the what entails the Holy Month of Islam. (Adapted from Sri Sathya Sai Balvikas, July 2012)

They don’ t pray all the day and eat all night, as some think they do, says Sakina Yusuf Khan, writing on Ramzan, the Muslim month of fasting.

My earliest memories of Ramzan are as a six-year-old wanting to get up at the crack of dawn for sehri, the pre-fast meal, like Abba and Ammi, and feeling left out when told “you are too young for it.” Two years later, when I was finally allowed to fast, I felt so ‘adult’.

The rozakushai – a child’s first fast – was a big day for me. Though it was December, my grandmother kept reminding: “Don’t run around in the sun, you’ll start feeling thirsty.” But, what does an eight-year-old care, especially in the company of half-a-dozen cousins on vacation at the ancestral home? At iftar or sundown meal, I was the centre of attraction – dressed like a dulhan (bride) and fussed over by the entire family.

As I took a bite from the first morsel after the maghrib azaan or sunset prayer call that signals the end of the fast, I was showered with gifts from relatives specially invited for the ceremony.  After that, every year, I would keep a roza or two, till it became compulsory after puberty. Henceforth, it was an annual tryst with faith. There was something magical about those 30 days when ‘normal life’ took a backseat; everyone was immersed in the Ramzan fervour and of course, on scrumptious food!

Nostalgia apart, what exactly is Ramzan? And why do Muslims fast for a full month, that too without a drop of water from dawn to dusk, even at the height of summer, you might wonder. Well, Ramzan is the month in which the Quran was first revealed to Prophet Muhammad and the Quran commands: “O you  who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was, prescribed to those before you, that you may learn piety and righteousness” – chapter 2, verse 183.

Fasting is a spiritual practice common to many religions. It is central to Christian and Jewish faiths. On Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, Jews are forbidden from eating and drinking, and during 40 days of Lent Christians give up certain foods. During Navaratri, Hindus undertake fasts besides also on other special days of the year.

In Islam roza does not just mean refraining from eating and drinking, but from every kind of indulgence including any wrongdoing. “The physical fast is a symbol and outward expression of inner purification. A fasting person’s aim is to attain purity of thought in action,” says Farida Khanum, Associate Professor of Islamic Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi.

For Muslims, Ramzan is temple for spiritual reflection, self-discipline, endurance and empathy for the poor and needy.  Clerics explain: during this month, the rozadaar or fasting Muslim, bound by Islamic discipline, is meant to build strength of character so that during the rest of the year he does not commit wrong under unrestricted conditions. A person who undergoes hunger and thirst, but does not behave righteously, has not observed roza.

For the faithful it is a time for rejuvenating their faith.  “We fast to attain closeness to Allah. As we bear the rigours of fasting purely for the sake of following a Divine commandment, knowing and feeling that He can see all our actions however secret, it renews our faith in Allah,” explains Masud Alam, a 25 year-old corporate executive with a 5-star hotel in Delhi. “For me Ramzan is a time for self-purification.

Being self-employed, I take off for the entire month to concentrate on roza, says Shazia Khan, freelance filmmaker who spends hours every day making pakoras, chana (the standard fare for iftar in the subcontinent) and other savouries she sends for the needy who come to break their fast in the mosque nearby, all 30 days of Ramzan. Charity is an important component of Ramzan. It is believed that charity done this month is multiplied several fold.

The month of Ramzan culminates with the sighting of the new moon. The next day is celebrated as Eid or Id-ul-Fitr. It’s a manifestation of joy and a sense of achievement for the rozadaars at having passed the test of restraint and self-purification. As Muslims greet each other with a hug and celebrate with sheeer-khorma and seviyan, there is a tinge of sadness in their heart that the mubarak (blessed) month is over.

II Samasta Lokah Sukhino Bhavantu II