As the last ten nights of Ramadan approach, I want to paint you a picture of how we can utilize Ramadan to our benefit. It is true that fasting is something that we do solely for our Creator, but I can’t help but think that there must be something we are getting out of it. In fact I believe that there are many treasures within this experience, some hidden and others apparent, that are of benefit to us. So I wonder how we as Muslims can take these treasures and keep them close to us throughout the year. Surely there must be more to this fasting thing than hunger? As with every other question I have had about Islam, I went to the source for inspiration, The Quran. In this book are a multitude of parables and stories for us to reflect upon and with it I have been able to answer all of my questions about God, creation and the meaning of life etc. In It I found the following verse, “Then do they not look at the camels – how they are created?” (88:17) The simplicity of this verse struck me and I knew I had to explore this further. Why would God use the camel as an example and how does this apply to us today?
Although camels are native to North America they hold a strong place in the hearts of most Middle Easterners and are revered in the Holy Quran. Camels are amazing creatures. They are highly valued for their ability to withstand tough terrain whilst traveling through the desert; and are often more dependable in these environments than the most expensive vehicles. Also, because these animals are beneficial in so many ways, they are expensive and are sometimes even used as a dowry or a source of payment in different transactions. Furthermore, looking at them from a biological perspective, Muslims can take away lessons that can, inchAllah, enrich our lives beyond the narrow scope of Ramadan.
Now I am no camel expert but please consider the following comparisons between the camel’s hump and Ramadan. Like a camel trekking through the desert with very few fuel sources, the Muslim submits to its Creator in the ultimate form: the fast. Fasting is done solely for God and only God knows for sure whether someone is fasting. I could say I am fasting when I am out and eat to my heart’s content at home; and no one would know, except God. Throughout the month of Ramadan, the Muslim survives on very little food and water. We eat when the sun goes down and refrain from food when we see the thread of the morning sun upon us. With 18 hours between suhour (early morning meal) and iftar (break-fast meal) I am personally not very hungry and will often eat only one full meal at iftar time and some water and dates for suhoor.
In addition to the previously mentioned examples, a camel’s hump can store up to 40kg of fat. Just as the camel stores extra energy in their hump or humps, depending on the breed, we too carry a store of energy on our bodies. As with any detox or cleansing program, fasting during Ramadan is designed, among other things, to cleanse the body of the disease carrying fat stores many of us have. Please do not get me wrong, Ramadan is not a miracle diet and in fact a great number of people actually gain weight in Ramadan; but if we are truly engaging in the spirit of the season then we should be more worried about how much Quran we are ingesting rather than samosas or briq.
Another point that I think is worth mentioning is that a camel will adjust to its surroundings. For example, much of the plant life in the desert is rough, thorny and hard to digest. Yet the camel is adapted to eat these foods. Just like the camel we need to adapt to the often harsh elements of our environment. Rather than become negative and harsh we should use our life tests as nourishment. What are tests after all? They are a way to teach us something about the world. In them are lessons about compassion and love, to name only a few. As it states in the Quran, “We will certainly test you with something of fear and hunger, and loss of wealth and lives and fruits (earnings) but give glad tidings to the persevering and patient.” (2:155) In reflecting on the following two verses we can see the God does not want difficulty for us. “Allah intends for you ease, and does not want to make things difficult for you” [2:185]; and “Allah does not want to place you in difficulty” [5:6]. So if God wants ease for us, we should therefore be learning something beneficial from every interaction we have.
Also, before a long voyage a guide will ensure that his camel has been properly nourished. This way if food stores run low the camel won’t need to consume as much during the journey. Just as in life we should use our time in Ramadan to increase our eman through reading, increasing our prayers and helping those around us, in need or not. These are things that we should be doing throughout the year regardless, however, Ramadan seems to be a time where we force ourselves to slow down and really look at life through a different perspective. Just as the guide would never send his herd out ill prepared, we too should never embark on a “journey” without properly preparing beforehand.
Moreover, although it is practically impossible to find food and water sources in the desert, the camel is able to withstand and carry on, often times with hundreds of pounds of weight on their back. In fact they can survive up to eight days in above 50 heat without eating and drinking. Just like the camel, the Muslim must carry on through life and deal with its difficulties with patience. Sometimes our load seems like the weight of the world on our backs, but we must persevere and get through to next Ramadan. As God says in the Quran, “Allah puts no burden on any person beyond what He has given him. Allah will grant after hardship, ease.” 65:7
Ramadan is a time of spiritual replenishment and a break from our “worldly” comforts. It is a time for us to use up our food stores and clean out our heart, body and soul. We can only truly do this by thoroughly reflecting on ourselves, our actions, our beliefs and what steps we need to take in order to become better Muslims in the coming year. From the moment that Ramadan ends we embark on another journey and our humps begin to lose volume. How have you filled your camel hump this Ramadan? Is it saturated and full enough to carry you through to next year or have you barely enough nourishment stocked up to get you through Shawwal?
Ramadan is my trek through the desert but it is also my watering hole.