Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, usually falling near the end of summer. Based on a lunar calendar, the dates of Ramadan vary, moving backwards about ten days each year. This year Ramadan begins on August 11th and continue for 30 days until September 9th. In North America, it begins on August 12th. The holiday’s start depends upon “sightability” of the new moon.
During Ramadan Muslims participating in the holiday refrain from eating from morning until evening – in other words they fast each day. They also refrain from drinking and behavior that is in excess or ill-natured. For 30 days Muslims ask forgiveness for past sins, pray for guidance and help in refraining from everyday evils, and try to purify themselves through self-restraint and good deeds. More specifically, they are expected to put more effort into following the teachings of Islam and to purify both thoughts and actions. The fast is intended to be an exacting act of deep personal worship in which Muslims seek a raised awareness of closeness to God as well as a purification of themselves personally.
Muslims are expected to put a lot more effort into the teaching of Islam in general–primarily into the worship of God, into their prayers and into purifying themselves. Yet, it’s just as important to be helpful to and caring of others, which is why they are extra charitable with their time and wealth during the month of Ramadan. It’s a time of reflection and a time of God consciousness and when Muslims give whatever they have and the best of what they have.
While observing these traditions during the month of Ramadan represents a Muslim tradition, the rituals and practices actually are pertinent to anyone from any religious or spiritual background–even Jews. In fact, many of these practices are similar in nature to Jewish practices during the Jewish High Holy Days. Here are five ways that people who don’t follow Islam can take this month-long religious observance and use its principles or practices in their own life.
- Use the month-long spiritual observance idea. Anything you do for 30 or 40 days helps you develop a new habit. So, if you want to develop a new spiritual practice or to deepen your spiritual practice, doing something for 30 days will help you achieve that goal.
- Review a sacred texts. Jews, Christians and Muslims do this. Jews read the whole Torah each year. Muslims read the whole Quran during Ramadan. Studying sacred texts is a great way to deepen connection to God, to your religion, and to learn about your spiritual and religious beliefs. Rereading these texts over and over again allows you to learn something knew each time. Each reading you see something knew, find a new teaching, get a new insight, read from a new perspective. So, the text speaks to you differently each time…God speaks to you differently each time.
- Take on a practice related to charity or giving for 30 days on a daily basis. We could all use a reminder to be more charitable and giving; Ramadan offers that reminder. Actually giving charity or performing acts of giving time and energy on a regular basis, as in daily for thirty days is a great idea. Again, doing this for 30 or 40 days will make it a habit, will put it into your consciousness so you hardly think about it. Obligatory giving is an interesting concept…to do it because you are supposed to—not because it makes you feel good, because it’s the right thing to do, because you’ve been commanded to do so—not because you are going to get something. Islam also teaches that when you give you get…you will be rewarded. That’s another reason to give. Additionally, Islam teaches that giving deepens your faith in God and your belief that God provides–especially if you give even when you aren’t sure you have enough yourself.
- Make time for personal introspection, prayer, review of your life, deeds, relationships, etc. This is a wonderful practice. It’s great to do it more than once a year. You can do it on the secular New Year, at the New Moon, on Ramadan, on the Sabbath, every Wednesday…or pick a month any month. Just pick a time and do it…Jews do it for 10 days. Muslims do it for a month, which seems like a long time. If you don’t think you can do it for that long, do it for a weekend. But do it.
- Fasting if you are physically able. Many people do find this very cleansing on a spiritual level. Focus all your thoughts on spiritual things and not on the physical. Jews do it from sundown to sundown. It’s much easier to do from sunup to sundown like Muslims. Some people allow themselves water. Pick your method. But try it. You might find it quite cleansing and purifying. Many spiritual traditions use this ritual or practice.
I think any of these rituals or practices can be adapted to someone’s existing religious or spiritual tradition. Some of these may exist in your religious tradition already because they are fairly universal, but Islam gives a few of them a unique twist. In any case, we can see how much the Islamic observance of Ramadan (or almost any religious holiday) can teach and offer all of us.