[Riad Saloojee is executive director of the council on American-Islamic Relations based in Ottawa. He's the author of We've Seen This Plot Before.] As a boy growing up, I remember Ramadan by my incessant questioning – “Is it time to break fast yet?” – and my growling stomach. And no one made a break for food as fast as I did when sunset rolled around. Poutine never, ever looked so good. The ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, Ramadan is one of Islam's five fundamental pillars. Fasting was always taught to me with ritual precision: abstaining from food, drink and intimate relations from dawn to dusk. Ironically, Ramadan is most known, whether by Muslims or others, for its exotic culinary delicacies the world over. It's also not one of the Muslim world's best-kept secrets that in some countries Ramadan is best identified by an inverted 'work' schedule: sleep during the day; gorge at night. Call it our own unique circumvention of God's law: fasting through feasting. Ramadan, however, has nothing to do with feasting or the lack thereof.
The intent and spirit of Ramadan lies in a human transformation, with hunger and thirst being merely the first stage, the external dimension, in a month-long inner journey of struggle and discovery. To begin with, fasting is not about hunger and thirst. The Prophet Muhammed taught that God has no need for the hunger and thirst of someone who hurts others, violates their dignity and usurps their rights. The fasting of the stomach must be matched by the fasting of all of the limbs. The eyes, ears, tongue, hands and feet all have their respective fasts to undergo. The tongue's temptations, for example – lies, backbiting, slander, vulgarity, and senseless argumentation – must be challenged and curbed for the integrity of the fast. This consciousness of one's behaviour and vigilance of one's actions are meant to lead to the most profound dimension of fasting: the fasting of heart in continual focus on, and attachment to, the Divine. It is this experience and in this state that Ramadan becomes a source of peace and solace. (MORE)