Ramadan is the Islamic month of fasting, but it's about much more than simply abstaining from food and drink during the daylight hours.
HuffPost Religion asked some of our favorite writers to share with us their thoughts about the spiritual meaning of Ramadan, collected here. You can also send in your own reflections to our Ramadan Live Blog.
We wish all our Muslim sisters and brothers Ramadan Kareem!
Strengthening Bonds- Hind Makki
"Before his prophethood, Muhammad bin Abdullah used to spend the entirety of the sacred month of Ramadan in solitude, at Cave Hira, escaping the corruption of the mercantile class in Makkah while contemplating Divine Truth. Today, when Muslims observe Ramadan, we echo our Prophet's solitude, fasting by day and praying at night, yet we do not fully seclude ourselves from the secular. We honor our faith as we spend Ramadan strengthening bonds with neighbors, hosting interfaith and intrafaith iftars, volunteering at places like food kitchens, and donating resources to local underserved communities."
Ramadan Is A Gift- Qasim Rashid
"Ramadan is an priceless opportunity to take action and become a better servant to humanity.
Ramadan is a precious gem that attracts God’s nearness, His mercy, His blessings, and His forgiveness.
Ramadan is a narrow path that reminds us fasting is not just about abstaining from food and drink, but also from back biting, gossiping, malice, suspicion, miserliness, extravagance, vulgarity, immodesty, infidelity, arrogance, ignorance, cowardice, and thinking ill of others, so that when food and drink become permissible once again, we have built an internal fortress to permanently abstain from the aforementioned bad habits."
Qasim Rashid is the author of the critically acclaimed book The Wrong Kind of Muslim. The Wrong Kind of Muslim received the Kirkus Star and was selected as Kirkus' Top 100 Indie books of 2013.
What It Means To Be Human- Qamar Ul Huda
"In the Bible it is stated 'Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit which is in us' (I Cor. 6:19), and in the Qur'an God says, 'I breathe into him [Adam] My Spirit' (28:72).
With these verses in mind, the spiritual practices of fasting, prayers, charity, and intense meditation during Ramadan reminds us that our body is a base for the presence of the Spirit. Experiencing the presence of the Spirit reminds us to appreciate the body as sacred as well as rediscover and reconnect the sacredness of nature. The combination of reestablishing our link with nature’s ecology and a deeper God-consciousness (tawhid) fosters a heightened awareness of the One present in all things.
Ramadan’s sacred time re-delivers what it means to be human; it provides insight into knowledge of love, beauty, and truth while living a life of gratitude. Ramadan tells us that cultivating wisdom is beyond dogma and doctrine, rather the focus is on the Spirit."
-Qamar Ul Huda is a Senior Program Officer at the Religion and Peacemaking Program, U.S. Institute of Peace; and the author of 'The Crescent and Dove.'
Closeness Of The Divine- Ayesha Mattu
"Ramadan is a celebration of the closeness of the Divine, of family & community - which makes it the perfect time to welcome the stranger into our midst. When inviting loved ones for iftar, ask them to bring someone whom you do not know. Make room especially for those who are without family, partners, or friends during this sacred month, growing both our hearts & our ideas of community."
- Ayesha Mattu is the editor of "Salaam, Love: American Muslim Men on Love, Sex & Intimacy" (Beacon Press, 2014)
Energies Of Love- Shaikh Kabir Helminski
"Muslims who participate in Ramadan are not only supporting and reinforcing each other's spiritual state in a coherent field of resonance, they are also contributing to the global coherence of humanity by sending the energies of love, devotion, and ego-transcendence into the collective soul. Fasting in Ramadan, because it offers an intense lived experience of the holy, saves Islam from being merely a form of belief and takes it to the level of spiritual perception, which is the sustenance of faith."
-Shaikh Kabir Helminski is a translator of the works of Rumi and others; a Shaikh of the Mevlevi Order, co-director of The Threshold Society (Sufism.org); and a Director of the Baraka Institute (Barakainstitute.org).
The Fruits Of Patience- Sarah Sayeed
"This Ramadan, may we strive to be as fully present as possible, experiencing our physical hunger and thirst as the soul’s yearning for divine nourishment. May we find new meaning in our daily prayers and be refreshed by extra supplications. May Muslim communities be as the flowering trees of well-tended orchards, growing in abundance the fruits of patience, kindness, compassion and love."
-Sarah Sayeed is the Director of Community Partnerships at the Interfaith Center of New York.
Mindfulness- Eboo Patel
"In my normal life, I'm always rushing around. Mach 5 is my standard speed. During Ramadan, I embrace the slowdown (which is the only way to physically survive the month) and try to channel it into mindfulness."
-Eboo Patel is the founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core.
A Spiritual Gym- Abdullah Antepli
"Ramadan is a month long spiritual gym where we work on metaphysical muscles through more deliberate disciplines, prayer, reflections and worship. It is an annual Muslim attempt to simultaneously grow vertically in their relationship with their Lord and horizontally with fellow human beings through emphatic and various acts of charity. It is a month of self-auditing and self-evaluation where believers check their accounts in Heavenly currency terms. May we all able to bring ourselves to a level where we can accept and welcome all what Ramadan can give us."
-Imam Abdullah Antepli is the Muslim chaplain at Duke University.
Removing Vices- Harris Zafar
"What I would encourage Muslims to do during this month is to focus on what qualities and characteristics of the Prophet Muhammad have they made a part of their own personality. Ask yourself if you are they as loving, as compassionate, as forgiving, as just, as honest as we know him to have been? Spend this month inculcating his qualities in yourself, and look into yourself to find one vice and make it your unshakable commitment to remove that vice from yourself this month."
Harris Zafar is the author of Demystifying Islam and national spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Muslim community.
Solitude and Community - Laila Alawa
"I have found, through trial and error, that the best ways to gain spiritual and emotional nourishment from the month of Ramadan are found both in spending time with oneself, and with the community. The fast is, at its core, deeply personal, a struggle between one's ego/lesser self and the Creator. Yet through maintaining a balanced connection with a strong community - either online or in person - I have found myself able to pull through on the fast in a way that dealing with it all on my own doesn't result in: a feeling of God given support and understanding arises, that pushes my fast to another level spiritually. It truly is a balance I endeavor to maintain."
Laila Alawa is a Muslim American activist, blogger and outspoken feminist.
A Lesson In Humility- Myriam Francois-Cerrah
"Ramadan is an opportunity to reorganise your life and establish your priorities. From chasing dreams to seeking God, for the believer, it's about reminding ourselves of the direction of travel and seeking to lay down positive habits for the future. Restraint, contemplation, patience, it's also a good lesson in humility as one begins to recognise the myriad blessings in our day to day. Not least a sip of water on an over-crowded hot tube ride..."
Myriam Francois-Cerrah is a journalist with a DPhil from Oxford University.
07/28/2014 10:12 AM EDT
Eid al-Fitr is a day of great merriment and thanksgiving. Muslims celebrate by gathering with friends and family, preparing sweet delicacies, wearing new clothes, giving each other gifts and putting up lights and other decorations in their homes. A common greeting during this holiday is Eid Mubarak, which means, “Have a blessed Eid!”
See photos of the holiday here:
07/28/2014 10:09 AM EDT
A Final Ramadan Reflection: Look Inside Your Heart
We have a commitment to each other in our shared humanity to be our very best on this day and every tomorrow that we are blessed to see. Don't be selfish and keep yourself from being surrounded by selfish people. The mindless consumption that renders a short-lived complacency from a simple a satiation of our stomachs should no longer be our pursuit. Instead elevate yourself to your highest station, free of any of fear of reaching your potential, and pursue real contentment by satisfying your soul through a nourishment that sees beyond the acquisition of things worldly. Do it so that the world will be better, even if it's just the world of those who are blessed to meet you. Where they might end up will be totally different because of how you impacted their life.
07/24/2014 3:02 PM EDT
The Last Few Days Of Ramadan
Last days of #Ramadan: reflect on what spiritual routines you can commit to realistically sustaining beyond this month.— Nafeesa Suleiman (@Feena94) July 24, 2014
07/24/2014 12:54 PM EDT
Ramadan Reflection Day #25: Yesterday I Met One of the Children of Gaza
As I am sure was the case with most of you, the last couple of weeks for me have been a roller coaster of emotions. The social media waves bombarding their respective networks with tweets and statuses filled with the faces of young, innocent Palestinian babies killed for no justifiable reason and the annoyance of those seeking still for some reason to justify it nonetheless has been more than intense. Our eyes have seen homes blown apart, people's faces fall as their lives shatter in front of them, the dirty realities of politics and the superficiality of some relationships. These images have hit us all hard, even those who knew better from before hand. How could one not be disturbed at such utter disregard for life?
07/23/2014 12:36 PM EDT
Kid's Adorable Note Shows The True Meaning Of Ramadan
A Reddit user found a note outside his university which shows the real meaning of the holy month of Ramadan. It was shared with the explanation, "Kid's note about Ramadan - found outside my uni. I am not Muslim but this made my day."
07/23/2014 9:55 AM EDT
Learning The Art Of Fasting
As I was sitting under an old Oak tree in Harvard Yard reading, the midday heat slowly crept up on me. I paused, put down my book, and observed the sunlight filtering through the green branches, causing tiny beads of sweat to form on my forehead. Coming from Europe, I had yet to get adjusted, not only to the intense heat, but also to the high demands of my educational endeavors, and life in the United States as a whole. In addition, having just recently embraced Islam as my religion of choice, I was still in the process of exploring my new faith.
The summer semester was soon to begin, and so was my first Ramadan. It was hot – too hot – and I couldn’t imagine fasting for over 16 hours each day, while at the same time taking classes, conducting research and studying for exams. I was about to give up before I even started. Picking up my book once again, I sifted through pages of poetry, and found some well needed inspiration:
"Stop eating bread. The sweet fast is here! You learned the art of eating. Now learn the art of fasting!"
Rumi’s call resonated. I too wanted to learn the art of fasting. Despite my concerns – and despite the heat – I was eager to find out the purpose and deeper meaning of Ramadan.
For many new Muslims, learning how to fast can be as rewarding as it is challenging. The process not only involves a change in eating and sleeping patterns, but also the acquisition of important religious practices, such as the nightly Taraweeh prayers. Perhaps the most valuable gift during this learning experience is the spiritual aspect of fasting, which involves establishing a connection with your inner self and the Devine. Despite the benefits however, fasting can be difficult, particularly for new Muslims whose bodies are not used to abstaining from food and water. Therefore, it is crucial to seek encouragement, support and guidance.
Luckily, I was surrounded by a vibrant Muslim community whose positive attitudes and uplifting spirits made fasting so much easier and enjoyable. I also signed up for a number of programs at local mosques, tailored specifically for converts. These programs ranged from classes regarding the basics of Islam, to monthly converTsations and iftar dinners for new Muslims and friends. Harnessing the power of social networks has also helped me to connect with and learn from likeminded individuals. Making use of these opportunities not only facilitated fasting, but also helped me to form enduring friendships, deepen my knowledge about Islam, and gain confidence as a new Muslim.
Islam is one of the fastest growing religions in the United States and around the world. Nearly a quarter of the estimated six million American Muslims are converts, coming from diverse cultural backgrounds and ethnicities. It is therefore crucial to accommodate the needs of converts – not only during Ramadan but throughout the year – in order to facilitate the learning process and to support new Muslims in their quest for knowledge, meaning and purpose.
Thinking back, sitting and sweating under the old Oak in Harvard Yard, exited and anxious, inspired by Rumi to learn the art of fasting. I am now wondering, what did it teach me? Fasting cultivates within me – within us – important values. It teaches empathy towards the poor and the needy. It provides space for community and friendship. It teaches patience, gratitude and perseverance. Fasting empties our stomachs, yet nourishes our souls.
Michelle Bangert studies International Relations at Harvard University’s Division for Continuing Education, specializing in Middle Eastern Affairs. She is an avid believer in the power of storytelling. Follow her on Twitter at @michellebjj
07/23/2014 9:51 AM EDT
Ramadan For All
07/21/2014 12:31 PM EDT
See How Families Around The World Break Their Fasts
This combination of two photos taken on Thursday, July 3, 2014, shows an Iranian Muslim family waiting to break their fast, top, and their meal, bottom, during the holy month of Ramadan in Tehran, Iran. After a long day of fasting, the moment of pay-off finally comes in the form of âiftarâ, the evening meal that breaks the fast. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
07/17/2014 2:02 PM EDT
Imam Khalid Latif's 2014 Ramadan Reflections
07/16/2014 1:06 PM EDT
There Is Power In This
What happens when a billion people decide to collectively starve together?
The feelings of Ramadan are ones that Muslims know too well. It’s the most wonderful time of the year—so wonderful that it makes Christmas seem lame. There’s an air, a spiritual high of sorts—and once a year, the Muslim world gets a taste of what it’s like to embrace Islam in its true glory. Mixed with our bad breath is a wonderful sense of brotherhood, sisterhood, and community. We struggle together to refrain from food, and come together as a community almost every day- realizing once again why we like being Muslim. The struggle is there, but success is sweet, and it can be- dare we say it- fun!
We taste the unity, the sense of community and the beauty that can ensue when an ummah comes together in submission to the Almighty. We eagerly spend in the name of God, we work together, have dinners together, and we pray together . We give much in charity and we empathize with our brothers and sisters suffering around the world. We remember their plight and feel their pain. Some of us may even live in the mosque. We do all of this while we struggle to survive without food and water in the summer’s heat for 18 hours. For a month, we have the type of community that God envisioned for us to have throughout the entire year. We forsake the world for loftier goals, and we take pleasure in our worship. We take control of our own destinies, and become free in the way that God intended: submitting to Him entirely, free of any other attachment.
The beauty that we see in Ramadan is the result of a funky social experiment. This is what happens when people voluntarily starve together.
It’s not only beautiful, it’s a powerful idea. As Tariq Ramadan said: “Muslims, through this month of fasting are resisting: [showing] that they are against this order of profit and consumption." And, it’s true. There is nothing except for Allah SWT that can control us—there is nothing that we will not forsake in submission to Him. We will not bow to any system of power and greed. Materialism and satiation cannot control us—we control it. We are the epitome of self-control. We will resist and stay away from our most basic needs in submission to our Lord, and we will be united and composed even when ravenously hungry. Struggling together creates an unbreakable bond between us. In more revolutionary terms: There’s nothing they can do to stop us. Israel may wonder why starving Palestinians into submission to their internationally illegal occupation isn’t working, but to those who have seen Ramadan at work, it’s not that weird.
We will surely test you with a measure of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth, lives, and fruits; and give good news to the patient—those who, when an affliction visits them, say, ‘Indeed we belong to Allah and to Him do we indeed return. [The Qur’an, 2:155-6]
Threatening us with starvation [or anything else] will not work in coercing us to submit to oppression. The truth of the matter is that we will voluntarily starve in submission to our Lord, in our journey for the truth. We will let go of our most basic needs in submission to God, and we cannot be tempted by desires or needs: we are headstrong.
There is power in this-- hold it.