THE PRACTICES THAT give Islam its most defining character are its religious rites. These are also the habits of Muslims that, I have seen, elicit the greatest envy from people of other faiths whose hearts carry a sincerity about God.
Talk to the Muslims who have come to Islam from other faith-paths and see if they don’t tell you of the twinge in their souls—when they saw a Muslim bowing his head to the ground in |alâh, or with begging palms open to the heavens in his stark-white ±ajj i^râm.
This kind of ritual-envy, I think comes under the category of the legitimate sort. It flares from fiṭra, the original disposition of purity and singular belief upon which Allah originated human beings. It stirs from a place primordial beyond the cells that cries out for continuity of body and soul for an act of adoration for its Lord. Alastu bi rabbikum? Qâlû balâ! Shahidinâ! Am I not your Lord? They said: O yes, indeed? We bear witness! [Sûrat Al-A¢râf, 7:172]
Yet nothing, it seems to me, gathers this feeling for singularity in adulation together in a ball and rolls it to High Heaven quite like fasting. For what of our religious rites is more expressive of exactly who we are, internally, as a nation—the willing submitters of their free will to the Will of Allah (the meaning of the collective ‘muslim’)—than this paradoxically invisible, individual fast we do in Ramadan?
You can’t see it. You can’t touch it. You can’t quantify it. But there it is, driving an entire planet of people, channeling together the collective cry of their hallowed witness from the hollows of their souls as it echoes down through the canyons of our ethereal lives before the world: Balâ!
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Nothing has seemed more necessary to me these past years than Ramadan, nothing more saving or essential. Last year, I feared for it to end.When it left, I feared living away from it. I am afraid now that my destiny will set upon me suddenly before its sheltering skies canopy overhead again.
Maybe it’s because the world grows ever bleaker around us, as mercy fails man and the steward fails creature and creation in a blind grab for immortality that steals from him his providence and seals with him the fate of the Earth.
Or maybe it is the failings in me that seem to proliferate around me.
Yet to face the Divine Countenance without the hoped-for graces, the sweet traces of the promises of another Ramadan…from this I shudder.
O Allah! Bring forth this month of Quran upon us with hope and faith, and in safety and Islam—and with the divine guidance for us to do that which You love, and with which you are well-pleased. Âmîn.