By: Marian Ali
How many times have you walked right passed a homeless person on the street? By being busy with our lives and always heading somewhere, we most often become un-intentionally desensitized to seeing people starve.
The Islamic religion allows a space for Muslims around the world to remember and empathize with those less fortunate than them. The holy month of Ramadan, is one of the five pillars in Islam, in which Muslims are required to fast for one month every year. Those who are sick, elderly, pregnant or travelers are exempt from this obligation.
The Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) said: “None of you will truly believe until you love for your brother what you love for yourself”. Islamic values teach that one person’s oppression, whether it is poverty and hunger, is bound to the entire community. Islam is based on a system of brotherhood and sisterhood, and the month of Ramadan is a time for spiritually-deep self-reflection; filled with righteous deeds of helping one another. We all want and need food as a basic necessity for survival, and by fasting, all Muslims get to experience how it feels like to be hungry firsthand.
Although Ramadan’s core principles and actions are universally practiced, the experience differs regionally. In Somalia, “a vast majority of the country is Muslim, and during the holy month, restaurants, shops and other businesses are closed during fasting hours. So that people remain focused on their fast alone” Muslims living in the West have to accommodate their fasting with their daily activities such as school and work, and they may face numerous distracters. However, Somalia is a collectivist society, where citizens place communal needs before individual desires. Even young children partake in this religious observance: “Parents would encourage their younger kids to try and fast for half the day at least, so they can learn at a young age to appreciate what they have and empathize for those with less than them.”
Muslims are required to pay it forward, and “during this holy month, all Muslims that are financially able to are required to donate a percentage of their assets which is called Zakat.” However, this component of Ramadan is different in Somalia. Since the country has been facing a civil war and more recently, a huge famine, many are unable to donate money. Consequently, harsh living circumstances do not serve as a huge barrier for many Somalis, as some find innovative ways in giving during Ramadan. My mom stated: “I enjoyed cooking with my relatives, and preparing iftaar dinner for my family and neighbors. It brought everyone together. Sometimes we would even bring food to the mosque for everyone to eat and break our fast there.” Those who could not donate money would instead show their benevolence by preparing meals for their family, and neighbours. Some even go to their local mosques and bring food for people to break their fast with.
Although Ramadan requires individuals to donate money, the true essence and beauty of this month is giving in another way, which is through your heart and spirit. No matter what your social status is, fasting during this month is compulsory for all Muslims. People from different age brackets and economic backgrounds attend prayers together at local mosques and come together in solidarity. During this month class divisions are looked beyond, and everyone is expected to love and take care of their family and community.
Fasting brings a sense of empathy to those less fortunate through learned experience, as “Ramadan allows for Muslims to not just donate their money; but to actually experience firsthand how it feels to be hungry. It goes beyond throwing change into a homeless person’s baseball cap”.
Fatima Mussa, University of Waterloo undergraduate student, cousin.
Muhammad ibn Ismail Al Bukhari (1999).Imam Bukharis Book of Muslim Morals and Manners. Alexandria: Al-Saadawi Publications.
Shukri Hussein, mother.