"When you fast, good habits gather like friends who want to help." -Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi
In Islam, you have to fast with meaningful intentions. Without any intentions, fasting is simply suffering from hunger. Fasting creates a state of mind that can be achieved through true effort. It can be the evolution of personal understanding and brings personal revival.
If you fast properly, you can detoxify your soul and spirit, thereby purifying yourself. It raises your mind, cleans selfishness from your heart and increases your awareness of others. Especially in our time, when selfishness spreads like a plague, fasting is a good practice to discipline our souls. While other people are dying of starvation around the world because they have no other choice, fasting helps us realize how little we need.
Ramadan in the U.S. is so delightful and I have enjoyed it so much this year because, luckily, we have had chances to get together with old pals and make new friends at the many iftar (fast-breaking) dinners because, although Islamophobia appears to be on the rise, socially conscious Muslims in the U.S. shared the joy of Ramadan and reached out non-Muslims to show them what Islam truly is.
Süleyman Duman, religious attaché for the Republic of Turkey, told me that many iftar dinners were held at 14 mosques in the U.S. by Turkey's Religious Affairs Directorate to invite guests of other cultures and religions to overcome prejudices regarding Islam, to promote diversity and to enrich unity this Ramadan. Also, many associations, cultural centers and individuals organized iftar dinners to bring people together to acknowledge Islam as a tolerant, loving religion.
To me, one of the most inspiring and unique iftar dinners was held by the Peace Island Institute last week because we were able to break our fasts with a live adhan performed by Vedat Bayraktar, a religious instructor with the institute. Also, listening to the guests who observe different religions describe their understanding of fasting and Ramadan was also quite interesting.
Relating Ramadan fasting to Yom Kippur, Jonathan M. Golden, an assistant professor for the anthropology and religious studies departments of Drew University, said he thinks fasting is about striving for higher levels of awareness, in part, by demonstrating the ability of the human mind and spirit to overcome physical urges, thereby allowing us to focus our thoughts on the less mundane. He said:
"As one of many practices shared by multiple faith traditions, fasting is about bringing people together; for example, iftar dinners are a time when friends, family and even strangers gather to break their fasts. The Peace Island Institute puts these principles of peace and unity into practice with events such as the Ramadan dinner."
Rev. Andrew G. Butler told me that the Peace Island Institute's iftar dinner was truly inspiring for him because he felt encouraged by his Muslim friends, who follow their faith in a culture that is increasingly hostile to people of any religious faith. He said:
"Western culture increasingly places the individual at the center of the universe, and fasting during Ramadan is perhaps one of the most powerful means of denying self. It is my hope that Muslims in this country will be more willing to share their own stories of faith and how their spiritual practices contribute to their own sense of inner peace as well as a more peaceful world through the denial of self as a means to connect with the divine and one another."
On another night, I was with Katharine Branning, author of Yes, I Would Love another Glass of Tea, who has been invited many to Ramadan dinners in Turkey since 1978. However, attending one in the U.S. for the first time, she told me that "iftar dinners have taught me much about the beauty of the lessons of Islam, and they can enrich my life. I have seen how Ramadan has offered me the opportunity to contemplate my ethical beliefs and the bonds my own faith shares with Islam." She added: "Attending an iftar dinner in Turkey is always a special event, but when the iftar is held in America, it is even more unique. You don't have to be in Turkey to experience the finest hospitality." Branning also pointed out that we are lucky to live in a country where diverse cultures are respected and can bring their richness to a blend of democratic harmony.
Another Ramadan has finished. The struggles that came with it have passed, but the positive memories of it will remain. Now, it's time to come together to celebrate Eid al-Fitr and to share joy, happiness and love. I wish happy holidays to everyone. I hope they bring peace and contentment to humanity.