This week, Muslims around the world celebrate the end of Ramadan with the holiday of Eid Al-Fitr, an Arabic term that means the “festival of breaking the fast” and marks the end of the month of Ramadan.
Ramadan is a time of drawing closer to God. Not unlike the Christian season of Lent, it is a time when the faithful are invited/expected to consider the generosity, mercy and compassion of the Creator. Unlike the way most Christians celebrate Lent these days, for Muslims the month of Ramadan includes a time of daily fasting from dawn until dusk. On Eid, after communal prayers at dawn, the faithful gather with family and close friends to break the fast either in mosques, private homes or community halls to visit, share sweets and gifts and give “alms to the poor,” the zakat, which is one of the five pillars of Islam. The traditional greeting, Eid Mubarak, means blessings on the holiday, but more than that is implied. One elaboration of the phrase that I like and that captures the depth of the greeting and the meaning behind the holiday, is “May the blessings of Allah fill your life with happiness and open all the doors of success now and always.”
I know many who are not shy about acknowledging the hardship of fasting during Ramadan, especially in years like this when Ramadan falls during late spring or early summer months when days are long. Yet, my Muslim friends also appreciate the discipline and what it teaches them about life, how it brings them closer to Allah and how it enhances their empathy for others, especially those who are different from them.
In my capacity as Fellow at Seton Hall University, I recently served as a judge in a scholarship contest of proposals from high school students from around the world who offered creative approaches to solving issues addressed in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. One of the students, Mariam Hosseini, focused on Goal #2, “Zero Hunger,” and offered a complex plan that included both steps individuals can take along with programs that supermarket chains and food producers can initiate, thereby creating comprehensive plan to reach those who suffer from food insecurity. Her motivation, as clearly expressed in her proposal, was drawn from her Muslim faith, and specifically from her Ramadan fasting experiences.
She writes, “As a Muslim, I am required to fast for 30 days out of the year during Ramadan…When fasting month falls during the summer days and sometimes there are 14-15 hours between sunrise and sunset, I know first hand what true hunger feels like. I am always thankful that during this fasting time, at sunset my parents have prepared a very nice dinner for me to enjoy…Unfortunately, not every kid in the world can say this. They go days without food.”
Mariam experienced that fasting was hard and this gave her a window into those for whom food insecurity is a daily struggle. I was impressed by how this young woman was able to translate a core principle of her faith into concrete action that would benefit not only Muslims, but all people for whom hunger is a lived reality and a constant impediment to fulfilling their human potential.
These times are perilous in many ways: climate change seems unchecked and out of control; marginalized communities feel threatened and under siege; gun violence continues unabated (as the recent workplace shooting in Virginia Beach demonstrates); falsehoods are regularly spewed from the very highest places in our government; decades-old geopolitical alliances crumble around us. In such times, discovering our spiritual center is key to restoring a life of shared values and human dignity. Sustained discipline as practiced during the month of Ramadan is more important than ever. True Eid celebrations acknowledge and affirm the lessons learned through participating in this discipline.
As Ramadan comes to an end, may we be reminded again by the example of Mariam’s words: that if we apply the core principles of our faith traditions to our corporate lives, the world can be a better place. Eid Mubarak to my Muslim friends…and to all the world.