It was 2013 and I had just stepped outside of a stunning mosque in Konya, Turkey – a city of majesty and awe – on the 21st night of Ramadan after Taraweeh.
Having just listened to an hour of the most melodious Qur’anic recitation, coupled with delightful, aromatic smells of bakhoor, my spiritual sensitivity was heightened and my mind refreshed. I stood beside my friend outside the entrance to the mosque, gazing up at the starry heavens.
For a few seconds, we were in a state of complete absorption, engulfed in an atmosphere so serene. Our hearts had first been melted by the Qur’an and now they were being melted by the wonders of nature.
My friend turned to me and said: “The problem with the modern world is that we don’t see nature like this anymore, we don’t even look up at the stars and so we can’t see God’s signs.”
His comment struck me. We really have lost our sensitivity to the spiritual reality of things and, in turn, to faith. We no longer have lives that are in connection with nature. Our polluted environments, the destruction of nature and its replacement with modern – often ugly – buildings has meant moving away from the Divine.
Our unwillingness to simply look towards the skies and look inwards towards our hearts has had a corrosive effect on our being. With this in mind, it becomes understandable why much of the world is moving away from faith and the religious traditions that have been with us for thousands of years. We are, to put it simply, distracted.
We are distracted and preoccupied with everything other than why we are here. When we leave our homes, we don’t have that deep breath of spirituality, and we can’t detect His fragrance, because all we see is agitation and stress.
Instead of feeling calm, we feel a sense of constriction. Instead of seeing God in things, we just see ‘things’, and cannot discern meaning.
Ramadan is a reminder for us to connect to that which is permanent, transcendent and higher, to see above the confusion, trickery and posturing of our world. We are quite literally thrown into a battleground with our naffs, our lower self, so that we can confront who we are and where we need to develop. Fasting tests us on many levels and can draw out the best and worst in us. This is a blessing. Without being shown who we have become, we can’t expect to become who we want to be. We are being asked to solidify what’s good and struggle against what’s bad. The hope is for us to develop a greater sense of awareness of who we are and what our purpose is, and thereby develop certainty in God.
Ramadan seems to be a reminder that, quite simply, there’s something more. There’s something more to life than eating and drinking, so we temporarily starve our bodies of food to remind ourselves of this, and by starving our bodies, we are starving our egos. There’s something more than just sleeping, so we stay up late in prayer, in adoration and love of our Beloved. ‘For how can we truly love Him, if we neglect Him, preferring sleep to solitude with our Lord’, a poet once said. Ramadan is a reminder that there’s something more to existence than our selfish, petty and silly, unaided thoughts. Ramadan is a time to reflect on the vast Islamic tradition, and remind ourselves that it is the most compelling case for explaining human existence.
Ramadan is a time for Muslims submerged in sin to take time off from their vices, or better, become penitent and turn back.
‘As long as you are breathing, it’s never too late’, is a message that echoes throughout our faith. So, this Ramadan, don’t give up on giving up from your ugly habits. They can be amended and replaced by beautiful actions.
Institutions like Ramadan – a 30 day spiritual detox – leave us with no choice but to become better human beings, especially if the month is taken seriously and understood.
Again, it is the month that God is showing us who we can become. If we can give up food and water for around 14-18 hours, what else are we capable of achieving?
This sacred month forces us to take a step back, allows us to re-assess our priorities and be more present with ourselves. It takes us out of the world of mundanity and stagnancy into the realm of possibility.
And that’s why it’s the greatest of all months.