For the first time in 10 years, Ramadan, the very holy 9th month of the Islamic calendar year, is occurring while many universities across the country are still in session. Similar to the Jewish and Christian religious traditions of Yom Kippur/Rosh Hashanah and Lent, Ramadan is a time to focus on fasting and prayer. It is a time for spiritual renewal and recalibration as Muslims invite sacrifice and simplicity into their lives.
Ramadan rituals vary greatly across a huge, worldwide community that is diverse in its emphasis and intentionality. For most, Ramadan means fasting from sunrise to sunset – a discipline of prayer and restraint—while for others the focus lies in charitable works of compassion and service. Many people embrace the ritual of Iftar –the special fast-breaking meal shared among family and friends once the sun disappears below the horizon.
What strikes me as inspirational, as someone very new to the concept and understanding of Ramadan, is the invitation to balance, to the embrace of fasting along with the feast. While Lent and Rosh Hashanah focus on multiple days of self-restriction and sacrifice that eventually move forward towards a day when the fast will end; Ramadan, instead, cultivates a daily dose of simplicity alongside abundance. From my perspective there is a rhythm of restraint and celebration, of saying “no” and saying “yes.” This flow encircles each day, moving from sunlight to darkness. Those who practice Ramadan are invited to moments that are both fasting and feasting throughout the entire month. The intentional focus is upon the stuff of their lives, cutting back food, water and incorporating prayer, and then soon a new focus emerges as attention is given to the immense gift of living through shared meals with loved ones.
For the Jewish and Christian faiths, traditions I am more intimately connected to through my own practices, the emphasis tends to be on sacrifice and less so on abundance. Is it not helpful to fully embrace the celebration of fast breaking? How can we cultivate a renewed sense of joy in the abundance of our lives?
This week, as we honor our HNU graduates, let us recall the immense sacrifice and dedication of every student to get to this moment of great joy and overwhelming abundance. How will you cultivate balance and feast in these coming days? How will you “let yourself fly?”
Rumi’s Ramadan Poem
O moon-faced Beloved,
the month of Ramadan has arrived
Cover the table
and open the path of praise.
O fickle busybody,
it’s time to change your ways.
Can you see the one who’s selling the halvah
how long will it be the halvah you desire?
Just a glimpse of the halvah-maker
has made you so sweet even honey says,
“I’ll put myself beneath your feet, like soil;
I’ll worship at your shrine.”
Your chick frets within the egg
with all your eating and choking.
Break out of your shell that your wings may grow.
Let yourself fly.
The lips of the Master are parched
from calling the Beloved.
The sound of your call resounds
through the horn of your empty belly.
Let nothing be inside of you.
Be empty: give your lips to the lips of the reed.
When like a reed you fill with His breath,
then you’ll taste sweetness.
Sweetness is hidden in the Breath
that fills the reed.
Be like Mary – by that sweet breath
a child grew within her.
– Jalaluddin Rumi