The spiritual fruits of Ramadan

by Jahnabi Barooah

Ramadan Kareem!

It is with great joy (and a fair amount of trepidation, to be honest) that I begin my second Ramadan fast today. I’m not Muslim but last year when I was the assistant editor of HuffPost Religion, I curated a community live-blog during the month of Ramadan. During that time I read hundreds, maybe thousands, of powerful reflections from Muslims and non-Muslims around the world who were fasting during Ramadan. The United Methodist pastor from Dallas who was fasting to show solidarity with Muslims. The Muslim woman in Australia who was fasting after a gap of several years because her devout grandmother passed away the previous year. How a friend’s death by suicide changed one Indian Muslim man’s Ramadan. The first Ramadan of an Italian convert (or revert) to Islam. As I read through the myriad entries, I discovered that what I had assumed to be an onerous task incumbent upon every faithful Muslim, was actually full of spiritual ecstasy, and one that most Muslims take upon with gratitude. I was so inspired by their testimonies that midway through Ramadan, I decided to attempt to fast for a few days.

Abstaining from food and drink for around 16-17 hours a day was physically draining, but each night I looked forward to iftar (breaking my fast) and Taraweeh prayers with the welcoming community at the Islamic Center at NYU. The first few days I just sat unobtrusively in the back of the room during prayers. Soon, I learned to perform salah. I memorized verses from the Qur’an. Then I learned how to stand shoulder to shoulder in a straight line with the women to make my prayers. I even attended an all-night long prayer session during Laylat al-Qadr which culminated with 4 a.m. suhoor at Handi and before I knew it, Ramadan was over and Eid was upon us.

I found that fasting for 16-17 hours a day made me really appreciate food and drink, something that I previously took for granted. I was able to empathize, at least on some level, with the suffering of the poor in our midst who often go without food and water for days. But most importantly, I learned that fasting during Ramadan does not mean just abstaining from food and drink. It also means fasting from undesirable thoughts and emotions — jealousy, anger, pride and more. Finally, it was during congregational prayers at the ICNYU that I had a real appreciation for the diversity within the Muslim community, and the value of shared religious practices across a group of diverse people.

Alhamdulillah. For the baraka of another Ramadan.