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An Introduction to Ramadan - "Hidden Sweetness in the Stomach's Emptiness"

Guest Author: 
Azra Rahim, M.D.

There's hidden sweetness in the stomach's emptiness.

We are lutes, no more, no less. If the soundbox

is stuffed full of anything, no music.

If the brain and belly are burning clean

with fasting, every moment a new song comes out of the fire.

The fog clears, and new energy makes you

run up the steps in front of you.

Be emptier and cry like reed instruments cry.

Emptier, write secrets with the reed pen.

When you're full of food and drink, Satan sits

where your spirit should, an ugly metal statue

in place of the Kaaba. When you fast,

good habits gather like friends who want to help.

Fasting is Solomon's ring. Don't give it

to some illusion and lose your power,

but even if you have, if you've lost all will and control,

they come back when you fast, like soldiers appearing

out of the ground, pennants flying above them.

A table descends to your tents,

Jesus' table.

Expect to see it, when you fast, this table

spread with other food, better than the broth of cabbages.

Rumi,

The Illustrated Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks

 

“Not even water?”  “Not even water.” Muslims all around the world are marking the month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the lunar calendar, by fasting from sunrise to sunset.  They abstain from all food and drink (including water), sexual activities, and bad habits such as smoking and gossiping during the time of fast. To usher in the month, people seek forgiveness and forgive others as preparation of the emotional ground for the upcoming spiritual work.

While fasting is mandated on all those who can fast, there are exemptions.  All children, the elderly and the infirm are exempt from fasting, as are menstruating women.  Pregnant and/or breast-feeding mothers may be exempt from fasting.  Allah states in the Quran that this mandate is not meant to cause distress or consternation to humankind. It is meant to teach self-restraint, strengthen the spirit, cleanse and heal the body. It is also a window through which to strengthen one’s empathy, to experience the pain and joy of others as our own. Those who are exempt from the fast, participate by feeding the poor or giving money to charity, if they have the necessary means.

Ramadan as a month is special to Muslims because it was during this month that the first transmission of the Quran occurred; revelation from the Divine was received by the Prophet Mohammed via the angel Gabriel.  People gather to perform special salat (Taraweh prayers), where the entirety of the Quran is recited over the thirty nights.

These thirty days are also a time to gather with family and community.  In the early hours before dawn, designated callers from the community walk the narrow alleys of cities like Istanbul, Jerusalem, Karachi and Jakarta. This is a task of honor, to awaken the community to rise and eat the predawn meal.  Families and friends gather together in homes, mosques and restaurants to break the fast and enjoy delicacies like samosa and baklava. Stores and restaurants keep special hours, so that the festivities can carry on into the early hours of the morning.

Ramadan is also a time to engage in introspection - to take account and correct the trajectory of one’s life.  There is something about the burning hunger pangs in the stomach, the dull headache from a lack of caffeine and sugar that whittles away the defenses of the ego. One feels more vulnerable but also more open. There is an irrefutable sense of connectedness to God and all other living beings.  I find myself less likely to walk by wilting plants without giving them a drink of water when I am thirsty myself. There are even moments of euphoria. 

Rumi knows of that which he speaks in the poem above, wise as he is.  Fasting is Solomon’s ring – a way to gain command of your base self - your ego and its many whims. The reward may be a veritable spiritual treasure trove.


 

 

Azra Rahim studied Molecular Biology and holds an MD in allopathic medicine. She describes herself this way: “Spiritual Quester. Truth seeker. Globe trotter. Lover of food, flowers and all things green. Indiscriminate dispenser of hugs. Kisser of all things beautiful - big or small.”

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