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May 22, 2017

Why do Muslims fast during Ramadan?

Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

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Why do practicing Muslims fast during the month of Ramadan? And why do many even look forward to that month?

For me, Ramadan – which begins May 27 – is like a month-long training camp in which to practice and test my highest human potential.

We humans share a great deal with the animal kingdom, such as the instinct to survive, the need to eat and drink, the hormonal drive to copulate and to ensure the continuance of their species through offspring.

But too many of us take those needs and instincts to mean that they can also accumulate wealth to the point of greed, launch wars in the name of group dominance, or practice exploitation, corruption and injustice to ensure their own well-being, regardless of others.

These negative tendencies are unknown in other species; sadly, they are the exclusive domain of human beings.

Unfortunately, we rarely promote the best of what makes us uniquely human.

We are failing to cultivate the divine spirit that allows us to practice love, promote peace within ourselves, and advocate for peace with justice everywhere.

And we are failing to appreciate and celebrate diversity in our differences of religion, color, ethnic origin, gender, social status, or nationality.

It seems that humans today can barely stand even to listen to one another anymore. Our communication is almost entirely centred on our comparative financial worth and power, not about ways in which we can work for public good.

As a result, we have made politics and governance into a dirty industry, allowing unelected lobbyists and influence-peddlers to rule our nations. Here in Canada, we have neglected the well-being of our indigenous and First Nations people for centuries and have shown little progress or political will to improve the future of their descendants.

The way I see it (and I know I am not alone), this world needs a paradigm shift from the bottom-up – a fundamental change that will allow our divine spirit of good to take charge, for everyone, everywhere, and in every time.

And that brings me back to the fasting month of Ramadan; being only one month out of twelve, it is a good annual tool for practicing mindfulness and spiritually testing oneself outside of personal desires.

It is sad to see that many Muslims have turned Ramadan into a month where only the time and number of their daily meals is changed, while the amount they eat remains the same, or even increases.

At this time of year in Canada, the first daily meal during Ramadan is eaten at about 3:30 a.m. – two hours before sunrise – and the second occurs at sunset, or about 9:00 p.m.

During the daytime throughout Ramadan, I voluntarily give up eating and drinking for 17 hours, to prove to myself that my spirit is in charge of the physical and emotional existence that can otherwise lead to greed, hate, and evil-doing.

But beyond mere abstinence, I test myself before and after the month of Ramadan.

If I have become more charitable, humble, loving, forgiving and caring, then I feel I’ve passed that self-administered test with flying colors. Then, and only then, can I claim to have graduated from one of the best spiritual training camps in the world.

Above all, I prefer my spiritual end-of-Ramadan test over the common and irrelevant “have-you-lost-any-weight?” test. Happy Ramadan everyone.

Dr. Mohamed Elmasry is Emeritus Prof. of Computer Engineering at the University of Waterloo

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