Ramadan Reality Check

We welcome and celebrate the return of Ramadan. We give thanks to God for this ever returning month of spiritual exertion, this month of charity and prayer, this month of solidarity and of fasting on so many levels and in so many forms: fasting from food and drink, if we are able,  fasting from our destructive habits, unhealthy habits of mind, unconscious and excessive consumption, and excessive lifestyles, fasting for charitable causes, positive transformation, and for a renewed desire to live a God-centered, spiritually-infused life.

We pause to remember that our observance and celebration of Ramadan, far from being about our own religious athleticism, stamina and achievements, is a celebration of God’s infinite mercy and forgiveness and call to something better.  So we faithfully embrace this month-long opportunity to face our own faults and failings and limitations, this chance to rediscover our inadequacies and spiritual poverty before God, this opportunity to seek forgiveness and to dispense forgiveness freely and generously to others, this opportunity to reconnect with one another and reconcile as a loving, nurturing, supportive community.

Even with all of this, there is no hiding from the fact that Ramadan has a sharper edge, a more disturbing side, for Ramadan comes as a powerful reminder that all is not as it should be, that the world is broken, burning, bleeding, and crying out for the healing and transformation to which God is always calling us.  Even as we anticipate the one-year anniversary of the passing of our beloved brother Muhammad Ali (May he be forever held in God’s merciful and restoring embrace) and recall the inspirational beauty of his funeral and memorial, we also anticipate the marking of one year since the Orlando shootings, which left so many innocents dead, wounded, and traumatized just days after we laid Muhammad to rest in Louisville.  Closer to our present moment, we weep and pray for the innocent souls murdered and wounded and traumatized two weeks ago (May 22) in Manchester; we raise a cry of outrage and agony over the senseless, sacrilegious, vicious, and criminal assault on the busload of Coptic Christian pilgrims who were heading to the St. Samuel Monastery on May 26 (leaving 28 murdered and dozens wounded and forever traumatized); we mourn the brutal killing and wounding of the Portland Heroes, who stood up and risked their lives to defend a Muslim woman from the abuse of a psychopathic white supremacist, who then killed two of them and wounded the third in his hateful rage; we mourn the 27 Muslims murdered and more than 100 wounded when, just last night, a suicide bomber struck an ice cream shop in a predominantly Shi’i district of Baghdad, where Shi’i Muslim families were enjoying an ice cream following the daily fast…

Our hearts are full of sadness and agony and outrage over these — and so many other — clear signs that the world is not OK, that we are not OK, that we desperately need the transformation to which Ramadan calls us.  So let us open our minds and hearts to what this month is really about: something more than cycles of deprivation and excess, something more than fundraising and food and parties.  Let us open our hearts to the difficult, humbling, messy, and painful process of being made new.  Let us commit ourselves to walking a different path, to living a different life than the one which we have hitherto lived.  In the Qur’an, we are told that God does not change the condition of a people until and unless they change themselves (13:11); this year, may Ramadan realize the change we so desperately need.

Timothy J. Gianotti