My memories of Ramadan are pretty romantic:
Getting up early before dawn; helping others get up with the beat of a little drum in a small town Pakistan; a light pre-fast meal;then struggling all day long by pulling hands away from the pleasures of life even when no one is watching;
later at sunset, sitting together and breaking fast with dates and rose scented sweet iced water;
rushing for nightly prayers in our mosque courtyard;
going around sharing food dishes with the neighbors;
listening to songs of love from a little local Rumi;
chanting of Quran, and those competing calls to prayers at dawn.
Ramadan was fun.
But growing up took me away from my romantic Ramadan.
I would love to live in that mode, but cannot. The memories of those Ramadan days still take me to a different world. -----but then life is always beautiful when you are young. Even children living in the tragedies of Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq manage to play and enjoy life.
Ramadan now for me is more like refueling and retooling myself to deal with the realities of life.
That may be the reason why Moses and Jesus fasted 40 days before they started their missions. God's peace and blessings be upon them.
Fasting in all Abrahamic faiths is to develop further as human beings by being able to handle higher challenges.
This Ramadan I will be thinking of how I can help America from becoming a lesser nation. We are killing liberty while intending to spread freedom.
With missing prisoners, secret evidence and no legal help, as Human Rights Watch points out; tortured and humiliated prisoners as Abu Ghuraib tells us; with 32 million Americans being profiled today as Amnesty International estimates; Where are we heading?
But...may be I need to become a better citizen first.
I did not speak out when American Muslim Captain James Yee was accused of being a spy.
I remained silent about the inhumane treatment of the Guantanamo Bay detainees.
I also remain silent on many other occasions.
I think, I need to become a better patriot by becoming more skeptical of all governments, not just the ones I have left behind.
I need to stand firm with God given principle of "innocent until proven guilty," even if it means risking guilt by association.
I don't shy away from speaking for peace and justice. But I still have to write about the self-defeating tools of suicide bombing used by some people claiming to share my faith. If the cause of Muhammad, peace and blessing of God be upon him, did not allow killing any civilians, no cause therefore is high enough to justify killing of civilians.
Under normal situation many people can be just. But Islam commands its adherent to be just even in the face of strong conflicting emotions.
In dealing with other human beings, two major obstacles to justice are love and hatred.
Quran teaches us to overcome the first obstacle when we are dealing with our closest relatives or even ourselves:
"O ye who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to God, even though it be against yourselves, your parents, or your kinsfolk. Whether the person concerned be rich or poor, know that God is nearer to him/her than you are and He can best protect both. Do not be led by passion, lest you swerve from the truth. If you distort justice or decline to do justice, know that God is cognizant of all your actions." [Quran 4:135]
The other equally potent obstacle to justice is hatred.
Here again Quran commands:
"Believers! Stand out firmly for God, as witnesses to fair dealing. Do not let enmity of any people make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Deal justly: justice is next to Piety. Have fear of God. He is well aware of all you do." [Quran 5:8]
In other words you cannot do injustice even when you are dealing with the enemy.
I hope my Fasting will lead me to become better human being by developing a better sense of the other; to be just to others instead of living the nightmare of "my people, right or wrong."
I pray that my fasting helps me to become a better neighbor. Not just in the sense of the next door neighbor, but also better neighbor in the global village so I can feel what it is like to be living in Darfur and Kashmir instead of the comforts of Chicago.
With all my wishes, hopes, and prayers for Ramadan, I better get my pen and paper and start planning for my Ramadan.
One thing remains true in my romantic Ramadan in childhood and for today, Ramadan goes fast. I better plan before it is too late to benefit from it.
Oh. ...But just one more wish.
May be one day, my grand children will feel safe enough to go around with the beat of a drum, lantern in their hands, in a future month of Ramadan, singing songs of Ramadan in the neighborhoods of America and no mother will stop them for fear of their own neighbors.
I may not be there, but I will be listening!
Photo Attribution - Vishal Dutta - http://www.flickr.com/photos/39809462@N05/3866607349/