Willing to Excel
by Shaden Mohamed
A woman shops for the Ramadan meal in Iran
Tantalising aromas of freshly baked bread. Tender meats and roasted vegetables. Sweet and sour sauces of all sorts. Clattering cutlery amongst an array of voices...
This is all too familiar for a Muslim family who busy themselves preparing for 'Iftar' - the dinner that marks the breaking of a religious fast.
During the holy month of Ramadan, millions of Muslims from around the globe will undergo a physical and mental abstinence known as fasting. From the time dawn breaks in the morning, until the time the sun sets at night, Muslims will refrain from eating or drinking, partaking in sexual activity, speaking or acting in an obscene manner, or indulging the mind and heart in things other than the remembrance of Allah. In other words, for a period of 30 days, Muslims will focus on devoting themselves to steady prayer and self-control.
Muslims Rise to the Challenge
This period of self-denial requires an incredible force of will power, and yet millions of Muslims worldwide will rise to the challenge. The most addicted of smokers will give up their habits in order to comply with the rules of fasting. Those like myself, with a strong relationship to all things chocolate, will ignore the glistening shimmer of a glazed doughnut and wait patiently for sundown to indulge in sugary sweets. Even those with the occasional outburst of road rage will simply grit their teeth and mutter the words '"Please watch out Mr. cut-me-off" rather than the usual 'friendly' greeting.
Why Only in Ramadan?
This determination to better one's self as a Muslim and humanitarian is so strong that one cannot help but feel proud at the accomplishment. For 30 days I can experience the joys of belonging to a community who pray, fast and break fast in unison. I can sympathise with those who are less fortunate than myself by suffering as they suffer. I can act on this sympathy by fulfilling my duty and paying a donation to the poor, providing a meal for people in need and physically making a contribution to assist others.
And so I begin to wonder: why should such accomplishments prevail only in Ramadan? Why can't it be 'Ramadan' all year round so to speak? As I sit by my colleague, who nervously bends a paper clip in the hope of quashing his nicotine craving, I realise that as the holiest month in the Islamic calendar, ignoring the obligations of Ramadan would cost more than the puff of a cigarette.
The spiritual blessings received during Ramadan are so great that even those most distant from their faith will surrender to God. Living in a city as diverse as Sydney, some will often be influenced by a culture not of their own. It may be choosing to live a lifestyle which is contradictory to the Islamic ideal. It may be the preoccupation with achieving a 'status' of importance in order to obtain respect and gain a voice within the wider community. It may even be as simple as changing the radio dial in one's mind - from highly focused on your duties as a good Muslim, to preoccupied with surviving a hectic day at work and home. Whatever the choice, it is up to the individual to determine his or her priority in life, and fulfill it with only the fear of judgment by a higher power.
Unfortunately for some, keeping up appearances in front of fellow Muslims in order to live by a different set of standards seems to be the solution. Always looking over their shoulder, always worrying about getting caught in an act of indiscretion. This façade seems to provide a superficial sense of 'freedom' and yet, as a Muslim, the only consequences they should fear are those which come from God. Perhaps a sense of duty is intensified during Ramadan, for there is no other explanation for why this façade comes to a halt only during this time of the year.
Attaining Humility All Year Round
Those who focus on attaining that level of humility all year round should be applauded for their strength of character and responsibility. For choosing to live without being ashamed of their identity as an Australian-Muslim. For being more concerned about how God perceives them rather than bow to external pressures from society. And most of all, for setting an example to all those channel surfers who display an outstanding force of will power and yet do not go the extra mile unless asked to do so.
It is this which highlights the true beauty of Ramadan - its ability to unite a community and people, and to encourage an attitude of peace and generosity. If excelling as a faithful believer and good humanitarian for 30 days reaps such rewards, then it would only be a disservice to ourselves to keep such behaviour dormant for another 335 days of the year. So as I pass by the bakery and look at that doughnut, I learn that simplicity is the key to a good life - I can have my cake and eat it too.
Shaden Mohamed is in her 20's. Of Egyptian background, she was born and bred in Sydney where she attained a degree in Media & Communications. As an accomplished writer, Shaden has a passion for educating and informing others in her community on the beauty of her culture. "My dream is to inspire people with my writing because I believe that literature is the most beautiful form of expression."