|congressional breaking of fast at Ho Chi Minh City mosque|
This is my second Ramadhan in Vietnam. Over the years I had fasted in some foreign lands but most of the time only for a few days. For the last 2 years it has been the complete month.
For sure the atmosphere here is different. Sun rises at 4.15 a.m. So you stop eating as early as that. But the sun sets much earlier at slightly over 6.00 p.m. So you save about 1.5 hours compared to Malaysia. As you go through the day, before you know it its almost 6.00 pm.
Breaking fast here is a simple affair. None of that insane tour of the Pasar Ramadhan (the Ramadhan food market), loading yourselves up with all kinds of deserts and savouries, trusting your eyes over your common sense. Most of the time, half of the food bought in the bout of temporary insanity goes to waste, defeating one of the purposes of Ramadhan, i.e. to control the urges of temptation to excesses.
Here again I would like to share and remind ourselves of the meaning of Ramadhan. It is a yearly calibration exercise. A yearly exercise to bring back the balance in all things, i.e. nothing should be done in extreme. In fact, the Quran is clear on this, "you (the Muslims") are of the middle path", i.e. not inclined to either extreme. In that spirit too, the Quran declared, "there is no monasticism in Islam" for life is to be lived to the fullest, within the boundaries of what are universally accepted good values.
It is also the period of yearly overhaul. If we believe that our vehicles need periodic overhaul and in bigger assets, mid-life rebuild, what more ourselves. It is overhauling our minds, our hearts, blasting away the accumulation of dirt and grit which has accumulated over the last 11 months so that we emerged renewed and rejuvenated with proper thoughts, proper speech and proper actions towards a higher spiritual refinement. restoring our humanity, so to speak. Otherwise, all we get is just hunger and thirst, as the Prophet Muhammad S.A.W. has warned before.
To be sure, fasting is not practiced by the Muslims alone. Various other religions also encouraged fasting from the earliest of times. The Prophet David May Peace be Upon Him, also known as King David, fasted all his life. Hang on, he fasted every alternate days.
Apart from it being a divine decree, surely there must be some benefit to it, for God does not do or decree anything in vain. Some research on this subject, for example examined the effect of fasting on stem cell regeneration. See USC News "fasting triggers stem cell regeneration of damaged, old immune system" article at //news,usc.edu/63669/fasting.
Back to fasting of other religions and beliefs, this should not come as a surprise to anyone. When God despatched Adam and Eve down to earth, He told them not to despair, for from time to time He will send guidance (through His messengers). The Muslims believe there were over 100,000 of these messengers. Now, the number is not important, but the meaning or context is, that there has been continuous stream of messengers sent to guide mankind through the right path, for God would not leave His most prized creation in the dark.
Essentially the message has always been the same, how to relate to the Almighty and how to conduct ourselves with His other creations, be it man or otherwise. When it comes to the former, it has always been the basic tenet that there is only one creator and with the latter it has always been on the principle of justice, equity, compassion, responsibility and accountability. Simple enough words, but understanding and fully living it are two different things. Volumes has been written on this subject and volumes more will be written, but the challenge will always be in putting it into practice.
So it should come as no surprise that there many similarities in practices among various beliefs. For if God is one, then His core message or values will always remain unchanged till the end of time.
And it is this core values, in the broad sense which is Islam. That is why the Muslims have always believed that Islam began from the time of Adam. Something which the adherents from other religions find confusing. The Quran is explicit in its pronouncement that Abraham, Solomon, David, Joseph, Jesus and all of the prophets in between, before and after them were Muslims. For they all submitted themselves to God. And submission is the criteria of being a Muslim.
Now the word submission itself can be a source of contention. Some quarters may say this word is derogatory, implying the forceful subjugation of the mighty over the weak. They prefer the word "choice" instead, as it restores the dignity of man by allowing to decide for himself and not be forced into submission against his will.
Fully agreed. Together with His guiding principles, God has given man his intellect, with which he can observe and understand the universe, figure things out and decide what is right and what is wrong and decide for himself to believe or not to believe. So you submit, or accept His Sovereignty upon full understanding and acceptance of the facts. Hence, no subjugation. It is simply our choice. Again, the Quran is very explicit; "the is no compulsion in religion". And we may decide not to belief, it is entirely our choice. Again the Quran pronounced; "If We had wanted to, we could have made all of them Muslims". But what would be point then of giving man his intellect.
Some would contend, there is no need for all the ritual of not eating and not drinking to refine oneself. For that matter, what is the need of all the ritualistic prayer, charity, pilgrimage, etc when we can change or refine ourselves if we want to without any of these actions. My simple minded response might be, try imagine being full without the act of eating.
Some have taken the fruit as an allegory. The actions are likened to the skin of the mango, or if you may the apple. The belief or the essence of the fruit is in the flesh of the mango. Together the skin (actions) and the flesh (belief) forms the fruit. One does not exist without the other. The skin (actions) also protects the inner flesh, without which it would spoil in no time.
But perhaps the words of a man of wisdom of long ago are more eloquent;"Action without believe is wishful thinking, belief without action is delusional".
So have a blessed Ramadhan to my family, my children wherever you are, my friends, and my brothers and sisters all over the world, for the doors of forgiveness are open wide in this month (now that is another subject)