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Ramadhan a thirty-day challenge

By: Nadia Jamil

I have learnt one thing in life and that is the more I sacrifice, the nearer I get to God. I look at fasting as a test of patience and a workout for the nafs (inner self). Throughout the year I see people running up and down the streets with their gym bags, pumping up their muscles and the streets with their gym bags, pumping up their muscles and trying to look great but nowhere in London do I find places where one can get a workout for one's nafs.

For me this month is also about happiness and coming together with other believers trying to raise myself in the eyes of God through special prayers, and also training my nafs so that I stay in charge of it rather than it taking control of me. I feel honoured and lucky to be a Muslim as I have been given an entire system to look after myself and live a happy and contented life. An important part of this system is the month of Ramadhan.

As young Muslims we should understand the logic behind fasting, otherwise it would be meaningless. Fasting prepares us to experience the spiritual dimension of existence and get closer to our Creator. Living in a western society where fasting is not the norm simply makes Ramadhan more fun and more of a challenge.

Sometimes one encounters situations where others cannot understand why one has stopped eating all of a sudden. Last Ramadhan, when I was working in a very corporate environment, I came across three types of people. There was one group who would constantly give me looks filled with pity and concern for my health - something that always made me smile. A second group was more childish, deliberately consuming food and sweets in front of me to tease me. There was however a third group who looked towards me with complete respect and helped motivate me to keep going with this ritual.
I believe when we stop eating and drinking in Ramadhan, our action sends a signal to society that we are doing something important. This gives them an opportunity to reflect and find out more.

Ramadhan is a thirty-day challenge to gain nearness to God. It is all about shedding our sins and increasing our knowledge in a very enjoyable way. Through time and experience I have learned that the minute we try to come across as fake, other people can immediately sense it. Therefore one has to keep it real. If I fast from my heart for my own gain and benefit, others automatically sense that sincerity, respect it and also try to understand it.

God has designed this system of fasting not for His pleasure but for our benefit. He knows us better than ourselves and He knows if we do not train our nafs properly it will lose its focus. Life must be seen as a constant trial and fasting is something that comes in handy to tame the wild mare within us.

Imam Ali(a) states beautifully: "Certainly. if Allah were to allow anyone to indulge in pride He would have allowed it to his selected prophets and vicegerents. But Allah, the Sublime, disliked vanity for them and liked humbleness for them. Therefore, they laid their cheeks on the ground, smeared their faces with dust, bent themselves down for the believers and remained humble people. Allah tried them with hunger, afflicted them with difficulty, tested them with fear, and upset them with troubles."

When someone fails to understand why I am fasting in Ramadhan I speak to them on their own. I usually find that there is no substitute for sincerity. No matter how hard you try to explain something as personal as faith to someone, it is useless unless it is accompanied by sincerity of action and conviction. Try and impress this world and see how it humiliates you. Try and please God and see how this world bows to you.

I wish everybody a fantastic Ramadhan.

Originally published in islam today magazine UK, Vol. 1 No. 9 | July 2013. It has been republished here with permission.