Today our Muslim community commenced their most holy month of Ramadan, which can succinctly be described as “the embodiment of reflection, revelation, revolution, and restoration through sacrifice”. This comes at a time when the Hindu community is observing Chaitra Navratri and the Christian community continues to observe Lent.
“Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) began his journey into prophethood through reflection within. He was searching for a broader meaning in life that would restore justice and peace in society. He was looking for an answer that would transcend the need for material survival and transform humanity into a spiritually wholesome state. He reflected and meditated, spending many years in the sanctuary of a remote cave, surrounded by steep, barren mountains situated in the outskirts of Mecca. Finally, he received the answers in the form of divine revelations. It was in the ninth month of the Arabic calendar, known as Ramadan.
“The very first word of his revelation was “Iqra” or “read” and each chapter of the entire revelations known as the Quran began by invoking ‘the most merciful’ and ‘the most compassionate’ attributes of God. Ramadan opened the door to the illuminated message that Prophet Muhammad would continue to receive for the next 23 years of his life. The revelations brought forth an extraordinary revolution of the heart in which blossomed the fragrant flowers of mercy and compassion – the essential building blocks for a just and civilised society. The very first message, “Iqra”, inspired an ignorant nation to glean knowledge from all aspects of life, and then inspired them to share it with others, irrespective of creed, colour, or gender for the common good of humanity. The seed of this remarkable transformation of a people was planted in the month of Ramadan 1400 years ago.”
Last year around this same time, President Dr Irfaan Ali had called on religious bodies to unite under the banner of “One Guyana” for a National Day of Fasting and Prayers as three significant religious observances were overlapping – Muslims observing Ramadan, Hindus observing Chaitra Navratri, and Christians observing Lent.
As President Ali had noted in his address on Guyana’s 52nd Republic Anniversary on February 23, 2022: “while we are a multicultural and multireligious society, there are some common values in our belief system that we must inculcate if we are to build a stronger Guyana that will bring prosperity for all”. Fasting and praying to draw closer to God is one such commonality.
“Religious fasting, first of all, is an act of humility before God, a penitential expression of our need for conversion from sin and selfishness. Its aim is nothing less than helping us to become more loving persons, loving God above all and our neighbour as ourselves. Its purpose, therefore, is the transformation of our total being – mind, body, and spirit,” said Monsignor Charles Murphy, the author of <<<The Spirituality of Fasting>>>, in defining this spiritual practice.
In other words, fasting is not meant to make us feel bad or to prove to ourselves that we are strong enough to resist temptations. Fasting is meant to make us more loving persons. When we fast for a religious purpose, we do so in order to be transformed in God’s grace and all of our relationships should flourish as a result.
“Fasting,” Msgr Murphy writes, “cannot achieve these aims unless its focus is on God in prayer and not on ourselves.”
As DeTurris Poust observes in a prayerful meditation on fasting and feasting: “So much of life is out of balance today. Too much, too little, too caught up in the whirlwind. The world insists we need more, more, more, more, pushing us to grab all we can. But wait. Slow down. Stop. There is another way, a better way, the only way. Only by emptying ourselves out before God will we find fullness within ourselves.”
The benefits of fasting go beyond the soul. Just as it cleanses and purifies the spirit, bringing us closer to God, it cleanses and purifies the body. When we fast, insulin levels drop and Human Growth Hormone (HGH) increases, boosting fat burning and muscle growth and lowering blood sugar and blood pressure levels. Our cells also initiate important cellular repair processes and change which genes they express, promoting longevity and protection against disease. Fasting helps cleanse the body of waste, including cancer-causing substances, improving the functioning of our hearts, kidneys, and lungs among many other health benefits.
As the three religious communities observes their holy periods, may everyone achieve Taqwa (oneness with God, liberation from ignorance, wisdom, and understanding of the mysteries of the majestic universe).