Friday, July 20 marked the beginning of Ramadan in the US.
Every year, Muslims observe a month-long fast during the 9th month of the Islamic calendar: Ramadan. Muslims believe that this month is filled with blessings, and it is appropriate to wish them well at the beginning of the month. While friendly words in any language are welcome, there are some traditional or common Arabic greetings that one may use or come across:
- “Ramadan Kareem!””Noble or Generous Ramadan!”
- “Ramadan Mubarak!””Blessed Ramadan!”
- “Kul am wa enta bi-khair!””May every year find you in good health!”
While I don’t observe Ramadan, I am mindful of my Muslim friends who do. Knowing the discipline it can take to do a meaningful detox, I can appreciate the difficulty of the edict that “nothing shall cross the lips” from sunup to sundown in their devotion to the highest. This is especially true when Ramadan falls during a month of long days like July. One hears of Cairo cab drivers slumped over their steering wheels during these long summer days. Learning to “delight in the joy of others,” (muditha) I have been privy to one friend’s tale of his Haj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, something else the faithful must do in his lifetime.
I have also heard him speak of orthopraxy, the notion that apart from the key requirement of belief in Allah (who goes by many names), Islam is more concerned with consistency of practice, than of belief (orthodoxy). He told a story in which the Prophet (here it would be appropriate for the faithful to add PBUH, or “peace be upon Him”) said that it was more important to give alms, and to protect the widow and orphan, than to pray five times a day. Islam places a high value on hard work, and in being self-supporting, even if one is poor. One might see a fundamental tension here between this view, and that of those who devote themselves to prayer and fasting and seek alms, as in ascetic and Buddhist traditions.
Indeed, I once had a conversation with a hardworking man at an Indian grocer. When we established he was Pakistani, and Muslim, I asked if he attended the mosque in the town where he worked. No, he replied that he worked seven days a week at two jobs, to put food on his table for his children at home. “But He likes that,” he added, “He likes that.”
It is quite easy to make tension of points of difference among people. History has given us plenty of excuses for that. It is a much higher path, I think, to try to understand people on their own terms. Despite their distinctive culture and beliefs, the vast majority of Muslims have the same aspirations as people the world over: day-to-day survival, family, and meaningful engagement with this life, and the Great Mystery. Curiosity will open these rich worlds of meaning to you.