The meaning of Ramadan

Fasting in observance of this Islamic holy period reminds one to be generous and altruistic.

Rania Abuisnaineh

Sixteen hours passed and not a drop of food or water has entered my body. Ramadan is here âÄî the ninth month in the Islamic lunar calendar, and I, along with 1.7 billion Muslims around the world, am observing the obligatory fast.
Sitting at the dinner table, I note the time; it is still 8:27 p.m., just three minutes before sunset. The clock is ticking incessantly, but I let my patience extend a few moments more. Before me is a table laden with savory foods: dates, milk, stuffed eggplant (a Mediterranean special) accompanied by soup, tahini salad and freshly baked bread. As my stomach lets out another growl, I sneak a peek at the clock.
ItâÄôs 8:30 p.m., now sunset, and the feasting finally begins.
For the 12 million Muslims celebrating Ramadan this year in the Horn of Africa, an elaborate dinner (let alone a single date fruit) is unimaginable. Fleeing famine and unbearable heat, parents and their malnourished children are forced to fast even beyond the setting of the sun.
With news of this calamity, there is an ambiance of generosity settling in our own local community especially among fasting Muslims. Volunteers at the American Relief Agency for the Horn of Africa  whose mission is âÄúto alleviate the suffering from hunger, illiteracy, diseases and poverty for the East African community,âÄù both in Africa as well as the local immigrant community âÄî attest to this. ARAHAâÄôs executive director Mohamed Idris has noted an increase in donations and relief funds around the nation.
âÄúWe are getting responses, and people are really passionate,âÄù he said. âÄúYouth are doing car washes, people are donating.âÄù
He also believes Ramadan has brought about a renewed dedication among fasting Muslims because âÄúwhen people fast, they are experiencing what the displaced families of Somalia are experiencing in their daily life. And Ramadan is spiritually known to be a month of charity. ItâÄôs the best opportunity for Muslims to donate,âÄù he said.
University of Minnesota student Shukri Abdulahi said she has witnessed a surge in fundraising events since Ramadan began. She believes many charity organizations, such as ARAHA, are taking advantage of this âÄúmonth of charityâÄù to raise funds for the people of East Africa. Her own mosque, she said, raised $66,000 for the victims of the drought since Ramadan began, and another neighboring mosque raised an additional $55,000.
âÄúRamadan gives us a boost of energy and commitment to help our brothers and sisters all over the world, including our neighbors in the Minnesota community,âÄù Abdulahi said. âÄúAnd IâÄôve noticed within my own family that thereâÄôs this new rush of willingness to help.âÄù
When non-Muslims approach me to inquire about Ramadan, they often overlook the benefits that come forth from this holy month. Besides fasting from worldly pleasures during the day âÄî from food, water, sexual relations, and excessive speech âÄî we also strive to master the qualities of patience, self-discipline, generosity, forgiveness and righteousness. Our material demands diminish, and for 29 consecutive days, we step outside our culture of mass consumption and work on purifying our spirituality.
The ritual of fasting exists in many faiths. Christians practice Lent; Yom Kippur and Tisha BâÄôAv are most common in the Jewish faith. It is a universal experience in which those fasting allow qualities of patience, empathy and generosity to settle in their hearts, and flourish.
âÄúItâÄôs the same feeling of gratitude you gain [every day] during the fast,âÄù Abdulahi said, âÄúbecause you learn you always have more than you can ask for.âÄù