To many, hunger is a mere sensation sporadically felt during brief moments until it is invariably satisfied, never thought of again. To others, it is an inescapable reality and state of being. It is the indication that the last line of defense against poverty has been penetrated, thrusting these people into an indefinite cyclone of physical need. For the rest, hunger is an ideological method by which achievement of spiritual enlightenment is gained through sensory deprivation. It is the symbolic divestment from worldly pleasures leading to an ultimate understanding of sorts by the elevation of the spirit from its physical bind. Almost every major religion exhibits some form of methodological hunger in order to reach these goals.
In my more formative years, I came to realize the true effects of these deprivations through the Muslim version of this spiritual exercise of temporary depravation and heightened discipline during the Islamic month of Ramadan. Throughout this month, hundreds of millions of Muslims worldwide collectively join in the most widely practiced Islamic mandate – fasting. Put simply, able-bodied Muslims are expected to abstain from all food and drink from sunrise to sunset.
It’s not as simple as it may seem, though. No food is but one tenet of many during Ramadan fasting. Lying, cheating, stealing, cursing, sexual activity, smoking, etc. are all grounds for breaking the fast. Tied in with a preferred and encouraged increase in daily prostration and prayer, this creates an intense month with variable outcomes for Muslims. The one unique aspect of fasting in Islam is the partaking of most Muslims in this ritual, with varying degrees of intensity. The lives of most Muslims in the world are transformed completely for an entire month – a month where, according to Muslim tradition, the doors of heaven are open, the significance of good deeds is multiplied and anger is avoided. It tends to lead to a heightened sense of community as well. This can be exhibited right here on campus with the GW Muslim Student Association’s communal breakfast at sunset, where four days a week between 100 and 200 students and professionals from around the area gather to commune and get a free meal.
Purification is the main theme in Ramadan. My own experience with the month and understanding of it came at a time when I was as far away from my religion as I had ever been. After an ethically corrupt year in my life, I’d decided to give up anything harmful during the month mostly out of respect for it, partly out of desire to explore its importance. In partaking in the true spirit of that month, I’d let go of all my Earth-bound thoughts of no significance, for a change. A subtle pursuit of some sort of nirvana followed. The end result was a human being I knew always existed in me but never presented himself. For a time after that Ramadan, my life was that of a human being completely void of any Earth-bound worries. There was no smoke in my lungs and no cloud in my mind. A real connection with a truth, that proved its existence to me, was created. It’s not the kind of truth or realization that can be summed up in a sentence, or even degraded to words; but one that I know exists and gives me solace whenever Earthly burdens present themselves to me again. Such was the result of my own spiritual elevation springing from the month of fasting.
Ramadan’s true importance to Muslims is its encapsulation of the true essence of Islam in its purest form when taken seriously. Thus, even less stringent Muslims do not miss out on the opportunity for this connection. I admittedly digress from the spirit of Ramadan as the year passes. Smoke begins to fill my lungs again, and clouds form in my mind. But the feeling created in Ramadan always remains embedded in my mind throughout the year. This creates a longing for the month to come again whenever life gets too complicated. Thus, Ramadan became the glue for the faith of many Muslims. Hunger is forgotten when simplicity kicks in. Sacrifice and spirituality give grounding in the whirlwind of a world we live in now. The multi-layered lens blinding vision of the world is shed briefly for a momentary glimpse of light. Then, those who partake in this ritual ponder its arbitrarily self-inflicted sacrifice thinking, “Yes it definitely was worth it.”
-The writer is a junior majoring in economics.