Stock returns are nine times greater during Ramadan than the rest of the year, a recent study says. While I knew about the rise in spiritual stock and inner revolution that can result from abstinence and purification of the soul, the upside to a financial portfolio was news to me. It's an intriguing way to balance faith and worldly affairs -- it seems fasting pays dividends of all kinds.
"Ramadan is part of the Muslim culture of resistance to the mindless consumerism of our time," Abdal Hakim Murad, a Muslim scholar and lecturer at Cambridge University, wrote to me in response to my question about the true meaning of Ramadan. "Only by a tough discipline of self-control can we learn detachment, thus experiencing inner calm, and challenge the ideology of greed which is threatening the planet."
This got me thinking. In addition to causing stock rallies, Ramadan is mostly a month of internal battle against the desires of flesh. For me, abstaining from my usual dose of morning coffee is one of the many challenges I face. Fasting is not as simple as not eating and drinking from dawn to dusk -- the practice helps break away from the enslavement of habit-forming vices.
Strengthening the will to abstain from what's lawful during the month of Ramadan can be a precursor to being steadfast in refraining from what's forbidden throughout the year. The effect of fasting on mind and soul varies, and it depends on one's sense of purpose. A prominent scholar of Islam, Faraz Rabbani, made an interesting observation: "Some fast for God. Some fast because it is good. Others fast for the joy of breaking their fast. (Then, they indulge...)."
For those who understand fasting as a form of starvation, sundown is the time for indulgence. My journey through Ramadan and its meaning has changed over the years. The more I have thought through the reasons why I fast, the more I have come to see that the act of giving up morsel is a process of spiritual purification. I didn't fully grasp the concept of purification of soul until I meditated on the nature of nafs (lower "self") and its numerous manifestations. Now, the challenge is to reign over the desires that disconnect the "seeker" from the Divine.
This battle with nafs will continue until my cadaver is cold, but Ramadan is yet another opportunity to polish the soul. Besides my coffee dependency, hierarchy of wants and search for profitable stocks (pun intended), there are questions that I need to answer through meditation during Ramadan: Will I forgive those who wronged me and make amends to those I have wronged? Will I covet material things or be content with what I have? Will I restrain my glance from bodily allure? And, more importantly, will I help the needy, like the Pakistan flood victims, or cling to every dollar I have?
Reading the Parable of the Old Man and the Sock by Irving Karchmar, a dervish and novelist, made me reflect (once again) on the ephemeralness of life. It tells the story of a wealthy man who instructs his son to put a sock on his dead body, knowing the preparations for Islamic burial doesn't allow more than a white shroud. The father wanted the son to learn a lesson that one should remember at all times: We come to this world alone and we depart alone, leaving behind each and every material thing we strive for, taking with us only the stock of deeds.