(By Lamin Sam Jaiteh)
Before attaining adulthood, I understood the meaning of Ramadan from an intellectual point of view. My Quranic teacher told me Ramadan is the holy month, which marks the period the Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. Muhammad is Allah’s last Messenger who, through the revelation of the Qur’an, embodies the final completion of Allah’s message to humankind beginning with the prophets mentioned in the Judaic and Christian traditions.
What I did not know beforehand was the extra rationale for fasting during Ramadan to mark this event. Fasting, the conscious denial of food and drink, allows us from choice to experience for a short time the pangs of hunger and thirst which countless others have neither chance nor choice to escape from. This daily fasting increases our awareness both of the suffering of others AND our appreciation, which we so easily tend to forget, of being able to eat and drink whenever we choose. The daily fast is a communal activity within the ummah ( Muslim community) without distinction of one’s economic, educational, social or political background. We are all one on an equal footing, unaware and uncaring of hierarchical positions, just the same as with daily prayers where everyone, rich and poor, line up together to worship Allah.
During Ramadan I did not eat or drink from sunrise to sunset. Actually, this time of the year, daylight has been particularly long in London I would have Sahur, the meal that opens the fast, before 02:30 and end the fast with the Iftar meal by 21:30, giving me an average fasting day of 19 hours.
The challenge came with the prohibition on drinking during the period of the daily fast, especially in the hot weather in London. My throat quickly became parched, dry and difficult to swallow. I would frequently lick my lips in an endeavor to simulate the sensation of drinking. My co-workers would tease me, tempting me with delicious food and cool drinks but I persevered.
It is hard to describe the sensations that I felt at Iftar meal. I broke the fast by drinking water and eating dates. The shock of the cool water coursing down my throat enhanced my awareness and appreciation of the simple act of drinking water. Also, I became vividly aware of how others, less fortunate than I, suffer from loss of liquids and food. This was also a vivid act of instant awareness and mindfulness; experienced each night when I broke the fast.
I quickly fell into a daily routine of waking at 02:00 for Sahur, read some selections from the Qur’an and went back to sleep at 03:30 before waking up at 06:00 to get ready for work. My Sahur was very simple: fruit, cookies, water and a bowl of porridge. At the daily Iftar, I remembered not to gorge myself, or the reason for fasting would be negated. I ate just enough to feel comfortable, to keep my belly one third full.
I experienced Iftar in family setting and on a couple of occasions in larger communal surroundings such as having Iftar with family and friends. My brother-in-law came around to the house with his family on one of the second weekend of the month. An opportunity seized upon by the children to toy around the house while the adults patiently wait for the sunset to break the fast. This Iftar was the simplest I have had but, in its special way, one of the most meaningful. The food was simple: ‘Benachin’ (type of fried rice), grilled meat, fruit salad and juice. Following the meal, the children went upstairs while adults remained in the living room. We moved the sofa and the coffee table so we could stand in rows and pray. The sincerity of our devotion was most palpable and moving.
I continued my fast for the rest of Ramadan, so I fasted a total of 29 days. Next year for Ramadan in addition to fasting, I will also endeavor to read the whole Qur’an, an Islamic tradition during Ramadan.
It is a time meant for complete religious devotion and peace.
But Ramadan has been commandeered by Islamic extremists, preaching fear-mongering and violence.
So why do jihadis choose the holy celebration, meant to encourage peace and friendship, to conduct their horrific terror attacks?
As Muslims we believe the spiritual rewards for our actions during Ramadan will be multiplied during the month but jihadis have high-jacked the concept for their own perverted beliefs.
The terrorists twist the heightened rewards promised during Ramadan for their own purpose, believing they will receive more praise should they unleash terror in the four week time period.
The major attacks include a car bombing in Baghdad, with crowds outside an icecream truck targeted, while a casino hotel was also stormed by a gunman – and ISIS later claiming responsibility for the attack.
Already this year, the UK has seen the Manchester Arena bombing and now the London Bridge attacks during Ramadan – with ISIS having unleashed a horrific warning just days beforehand.
Last year, terror attacks during the time of Ramadan included the Orlando night club attack.
Previously, the Tunisian beach shooting was also unleashed on innocent members of the public during Ramadan. But Muslims have stood up for the celebration, slamming the terrorist’s use for the peaceful month.
Today, as I listened to Sermon at Eidul-Fitr prayers at Newham town hall in London, Iman Muhammed Sarr, said: “Muslims everywhere are outraged and disgusted at these cowards destroying the lives of fellow humans.
He quoted Surah Al-Maidah ( 5:32) from the Qur-an in which it states:
…whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption [done] in the land – it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one – it is as if he had saved mankind entirely….
“the fact that these acts are committed in the name of Islam goes to show that these people respect neither life nor faith.” He said. It is our responsibility to flush them our from our society and be at the forefront in eliminating violence and hatred in our community because Islam is a peaceful religion that teaches self restrain and discipline.