Ramadaan: seeking spiritual heights

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

It has been almost two weeks since Cape Town’s Muslim community embarked on the ninth Islamic month of fasting, called Ramadaan.

My Inbox has been flooded with e-mail reminders about striving to be a better person during Ramadaan.

Every day, a friend sends out sayings of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad to motivate the rest of us to remain steadfast on this path. This is a month when Muslims worldwide are meant to make physical sacrifices to reach spiritual heights.

Truth be told, it’s not always easy to stay away from food and drink from just before sunrise until sunset. There are moments during the day when vertigo hits me. Light-headedness prevails and one just wants to close your eyes until the headache goes away.

Ramadaan is the month of the Qur'an, Islam's holy text. Pic by Yazeed Kamaldien

Ramadaan is the month of the Qur’an, Islam’s holy text. Pic by Yazeed Kamaldien

These are aspects of Ramadaan that my non-Muslim friends don’t understand. “Why can’t you at least drink some water?” they ask.

It is sometimes difficult to explain to them the desire one has to fast because of your belief in God. Fasting is not only about steering clear of food though.

The month requires stamina on a physical level, but Muslims are also required to improve their character. That’s a much bigger task than not eating.

So while one should not eat or drink, any ‘negative’ behaviour should also be avoided. One should train your eyes, ears and limbs to stay away from gossip, lying, or other undesirable activities.

Some Muslims don’t even listen to music during Ramadaan because the song lyrics are seen as deviating from spiritual growth. Others watch less TV.

The Muslim community generally goes on a collective search for God during Ramadaan. They want to attain closeness to their creator. They do this via extra night prayers – known as taraweeh – at mosques.

Another essential aspect of Ramadaan is reciting the Qur’an. The latter is believed by Muslims to be the words of God sent down to earth. This book contains teachings on how to govern one’s affairs and attain spirituality.

The Qur’an, according to Islamic teachings, was first revealed to mankind in Ramadaan. This is thus referred to as the month of the Qur’an.

A Sudanese young man reads the Qur'an written on wood, as is traditional in that country. Pic by Yazeed Kamaldien

A Sudanese young man reads the Qur’an written on wood, as is traditional in that country. Pic by Yazeed Kamaldien

One saying of Prophet Muhammad informs the Qur’an accompanies the deceased into the afterlife if they have recited it regularly.

I’ve been fortunate to experience Ramadaan in different cities in South Africa and also in other countries. At home, I’ve become acquainted with Ramadaan in Johannesburg when I used to live there and also in Grahamstown when studying at Rhodes University.

Being away from home during Ramadaan is not always ideal for most Muslims as this is a month when many want to be with their families. But it is also a time to learn about other Muslim communities.

I once fasted for a whole month in Sudan while doing work with an aid agency based in Khartoum. Being surrounded by poverty a lot of the time drove home the message of Ramadaan, that it is a time when we should have compassion for the poor and needy. That’s why we fast, so that we can feel the hunger pains of those who are less fortunate than us.

In Paris, I was able to see what Ramadaan is like for immigrants as most of the Muslims there were from so many other countries in Africa and the Arab world. It was a humbling experience to end my day of fasting with other foreigners at the Grand Mosque in Paris.

And in Turkey there was a jovial atmosphere outside the Blue Mosque in Istanbul at the end of each day of fasting. Families packed picnics and gathered on the lawns around the mosque. Vendors sold food, watermelon, cold drinks and toys for children. Each day was like going to a mini festival.

Iiftar, or breaking the fast, at the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. Pic by Yazeed Kamaldien

Iiftar, or breaking the fast, at the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. Pic by Yazeed Kamaldien

Back home in Cape Town, families send cakes to their neighbours to make sure that all in the area have food on their table at the end of another long day of fasting.

We have another three weeks to go before the Eid-ul-Fitr festival that marks the end of Ramadaan. For now, we’re up well before the sun to ensure we grab a bite before another day of sacrifice.

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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