by Mehol K. Sadain
The deprivation and sacrifice that the fast of Ramadan instills in Muslims from all walks of life last for thirty days, from one new moon to the next, punctuated by a full moon in mid-month. Between the period before the break of dawn and after the darkening dusk, the faithful do not take food or drink, eschew material pleasures and refrain from blameful concerns. The spiritual obligation is best characterized as a fast of all the senses, and its aim is to create a God-fearing Muslim, a muttaqun. As the name and the aim suggest, being a muttaqun does not end with Ramadan; it is a spiritual station to be cultivated, nurtured and nourished from the time one reaches the discerning age until one dies. It is a Muslim’s way of life, regardless of time and season.
The effects of the fast having been designed to transcend the fasting month, everything related to the fast should also be transcendental. As purification it should not just cleanse the Muslims physically and spiritually, but also socially, particularly in their relation with their fellow men, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. The hunger and thirst are supposed to sensitize fasting Muslims to the travails of the impoverished, so that they will learn to be more responsive to their needs.
In this light, therefore, the fast of Ramadan does not have room for arguments and animosity. A fasting Muslim is taught to restrain his anger, and to reply, ‘I am fasting’, when provoked. The lessons of restraint and tolerance should not be lost on him who is determined to go without food and drink for almost fifteen hours for thirty days to cleanse himself of faults and perfect his character.
It will not help any if we debate whether a Muslim is better than a non-Muslim. What is best is to ascribe to him, as we should ascribe to each and every one of us, the universal belief in a Supreme Creator, whatever His Name may be and however manner He is worshipped. Neither does it help that we measure tolerance by the religious institutions allowed in a country, without realizing that all religions have hallowed grounds and sacred shrines necessitating homogeneity that other faiths must respect. For instance, we do not expect churches in Saudi Arabia because it contains the holiest shrines of Islam (in Makkah and Madinah) in the same manner that we do not expect mosques in the Vatican. But we can expect churches in the United Arab Emirates or in Indonesia which harbors the largest adherents of Islam, in the same manner that we can expect mosques in the United States which hosts various Christian denominations. It does not help to debate what we can and we cannot expect to prove the tolerance of one faith against another, because tolerance no matter how manifested is better appreciated than compared. Finally, it does not help to criticize from the fringes of faiths because such being the case, one cannot hope to reach resolve in the center of commonality.
Neither should we be transfixed on history, which we turn into swords to slash at each other. We justify our present handicaps by harping on past adversities: the crusades pitting Christians against Muslims, or the 9/11 attacks, or the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have a terrible way of using history even if it is centuries past and hopelessly unchangeable: we use history to harm and not to heal. We forget that as we stand on the threshold of today looking into the promise of the future, history is mere sewage under the bridge. We observe its flow but we do not necessarily have to wallow in its muck.
We should realize that our different ways and venues of worship; our different prophets, priests, monks, rabbis and imams; our different prayers and genuflections, are but different means of reaching the One God. Once we reach our destination and we are all united in His Presence, we can look back and behold that we have left our differences behind, because having reached our destination they have served their purpose and may now be discarded.
God in His Infinite Wisdom, has given us one destination with several paths, one ocean with different rivers. It is not our prerogative to question why; rather, it is our task to trek our own path or ride our own river, and perchance, the answer will be revealed to us at the end of our journey. The Holy Qur’an gives us an idea when God says, “O mankind, We created you from a single pair of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other (not that you may despise each other). Verily, the most honored of you in the sight of God is he who is most righteous.” [Surah XLIX, Verse 13] Created from the same source and mold, therefore, man draws God’s appreciation and favor, not by ethnicity or color, not by tradition or culture, not by kinship or affiliation; but by his acts of worship and good deeds, which Islam calls ibadah wa amal salih.
This reminds me of a true and tragic story of the Trappist monk Christian de Cherge who met his death in the hands of Algerian extremists, but in his lifetime, had a Muslim friend named Mohammed who died much earlier defending the priests against the latter’s fellow Muslims.
When both were still alive, Mohammed came to Christian and said reproachfully, “It’s a long time since we dug our well together.”
The monk replied teasingly, “And what do we find at the bottom of the well, Christian water or Muslim water?”
Mohammed then replied, “Really, after all the time we have been travelling together, you don’t know? What we find is the water of God.”
This Ramadan and in the future, every time a Muslim performs his salah or a Christian says his prayers, let us be reminded that if ever we are in a desert of enmity fighting for our survival and we are presented with an opportunity to dig a common well, we should not look for Christian water or Muslim water. We should look for the water of God.
[Note: This was written in Ramadan of 2010. It was good then; it is still good today.]