Imam Khalid Latif is blogging his reflections during the month of Ramadan, featured daily on HuffPost Religion. For a complete record of his previous posts, click over to the Islamic Center at New York University or visit his author page, and to follow along with the rest of his reflections, sign up for an author e-mail alert above, visit his Facebook page or follow him on Twitter.
By God's Grace, I have been fasting during Ramadan for almost 20 years now. Fasting brings with it a heightened level of introspection and it seems that each year I learn so much about who I actually am and what I am capable of doing and staying away from. It also seems like once the month is over, I forget a lot of what I learned.
A few people now have said to me that its hard to sustain the experience of Ramadan beyond the month which, to be honest, made me somewhat sad. The overall mindset and the actions that it yields within the one who is fasting is hard to maintain itself. The month has just started and it's already been amazing. In these first few days, mosques are filled up and people who have never sat together are now standing side by side each night. New friendships are being formed and old ones are being rejuvenated. A mindfulness has set in about time and how we use it. Many have set goals and started to actually work toward achieving them. Many are also giving of their time, wealth and selves to those around them. And the most beautiful part of it all is that people are doing so because they want to, not because they necessarily feel that they have to. Fasting is an obligation for Muslims, but that obligation doesn't have to be undermined simply because I am excited to perform it. And the potential is definitely there to feel that excitement beyond the month as well, I just have to figure out how.
It can be overwhelming at times to learn about our potential to perform, not just in regards to what we do that is wrong, but also at times with what we do that is right. The latter brings with it a different kind of responsibility, especially once I've learned that I actually have the ability to do something. What simply now stands in the way of it getting done is me choosing to do it, and really why would I choose anything else?
Asking this question of myself helps me understand better how I might factor into the way someone else answers this question for themselves. During Ramadan, the people around me help make the month what it is. It seems like everyone is on the same page and for the most part let me not just be me, but they let me be the better me. The judgmental attitudes drop on both extremes, where I am not being told that my level of practice is not good enough or, at the other end of the spectrum, I'm not being asked things like, "When did you get so religious?" People are breaking fast together, going to the mosque to pray together, and organizing charity events together. Most of us who are more diligent in eating our suhoor meal before sunrise probably also have someone to eat with. It's that factor of togetherness that plays a key role in sustaining things and helps to make things exciting.
From Paulo Coelho's "The Alchemist":
The Alchemist picked up a book that someone in the caravan had brought. Leafing through the pages, he found a story about Narcissus. The Alchemist knew the legend of Narcissus, a youth who daily knelt beside a lake to contemplate his own beauty. He was so fascinated by himself that, one morning, he fell into the lake and drowned. At the spot where he fell, a flower was born, which was called the narcissus.
But this was not how the author of the book ended the story. He said that when Narcissus died, the Goddesses of the Forest appeared and found the lake, which had been fresh water, transformed into a lake of salty tears.
"Why do you weep?" the Goddesses asked.
"I weep for Narcissus," the lake replied.
"Ah, it is no surprise that you weep for Narcissus," they said, "for though we always pursued him in the forest, you alone could contemplate his beauty close at hand."
"But ... was Narcissus beautiful?" the lake asked.
"Who better than you to know that?" the Goddesses said in wonder, "After all, it was by your banks that he knelt each day to contemplate himself!"
The lake was silent for some time. Finally it said:
"I weep for Narcissus, but I never noticed that Narcissus was beautiful. I weep because, each time he knelt beside my banks, I could see, in the depths of his eyes, my own beauty reflected."
"What a lovely story," the Alchemist thought.
Your presence gives me the internal confidence to not only believe that I can have the goals that I have, but also to realize those goals. You play a role in helping me understand myself. You help me gain the courage I need to not be afraid of my potential. You help me in getting closer to Him. And once the month is done, you play a role in helping me sustain it. Your presence is quite impacting in the development of my relationship with my faith and God, and your absence is just as impacting. Most of the time what ends up missing once Ramadan is done is not me or anything I brought to the table, but its you and what you helped me bring.
Below Twitter reflections on Ramadan