As always the Islamic world is a mix of contradictions and complexities. There is plenty for Muslims to be down about. Problems exist in Palestine, Kashmir, Yemen, Syria, and in many other parts of the Muslim world. Car and suicide bombings continue to wreak havoc in Afghanistan and other places too. Trump is still insisting on his Muslim travel ban, and Islamophobia is still rising in the Western world, as witnessed recently by the state of rampant Islamophobia in the British Conservative party.
However, this is also the time of Eid-Al-Fitr, a day of celebration right after the blessed month of Ramadan. Traditionally Eid, one of our two annual religious festivals, is a time for Muslims to celebrate and to be thankful. It is a time when we are supposed to give thanks to God for all the good that we have, and for all the potential bad that we do not have. So I would like to end Ramadan 2018 on a positive note. I would like to thank God for the positive and blessed lifestyle that I live here in the West. I would like to thank God for all the countless blessings I always find myself surrounded by. I would like to thank God for allowing hundreds of thousands of Muslims to openly pray their Eid prayer out in the open, all over the world. And I would like to thank God for making sure that Saudi Arabia only let the Russians score a measly five goals against them in the opening match of the 2018 World Cup.
Continuing this vibe of positivity, please find below links to two articles that show, in their own unusual way, just how positive this month can be. There are also links to several photo blogs that show how varied Ramadan and Eid around the world actually is. Think no longer please of Islam as a stereotyped monolith. I hope all of these put a smile on your face. Enjoy!
Emily Richardson, 14 Jun 2018, theguardian.com
Living in regional Australia, it’s not easy to get into the spirit of Islam’s holiest month. But my kids have embraced its hidden benefits
Like most teenage boys, my sons love to eat. Most nights, my 15-year-old polishes off two large servings of dinner before heading directly to the fridge in search of more food.
So as a Muslim kid, how does he – and his younger brother – cope with not eating all day during Ramadan, the month when Muslims fast between sunrise and sunset? And what is the point of it for them?
Growing up on a farm in rural Australia, I had no idea about Islam or anything to do with it, including Ramadan, until I went to live in Egypt in 1999 and met my husband, Ahmed.
In a Muslim-majority country like Egypt, it’s easy to get into the spirit of Islam’s holiest month, where everyone around you is fasting. There’s a camaraderie because the community is going without food and water together.
It’s a lot trickier to get that same feeling living in a small seaside town in regional Australia, 140 kilometres from the nearest mosque, as we do now.
It would be easy to put the practice of fasting into the too-hard basket, especially with our kids. So, religious obligation aside, why do we persevere?
My kids have never gone to bed hungry. They live fortunate lives, especially when compared to some of their best friends back in Egypt. I think it’s good for them to go hungry so they can empathise with those less fortunate, even if only for a few hours. But still, at the end of each day they know there’s a hot meal waiting for them, which is a safety net the underprivileged don’t have.
Yes, fasting helps teach compassion for those less fortunate and gratitude for what you have. And it’s good for your physical and spiritual health.
But as the mother of two teenage boys, it’s the hidden benefits of fasting that have taken on greater significance as I navigate this phase of parenting.
Any parent of a teenager knows it can be difficult to get them to do anything they don’t want to do. So how do you force a constantly hungry teenage boy to fast every day for a month?
For us, the answer is simple: we don’t. There is no coercion from us, only encouragement. We lay out the reasons why it’s good for them to fast, and then leave it up to them to decide if they want to do it.
Sometimes they fast the whole day. Sometimes they fast half a day. Sometimes they don’t fast at all. We don’t take an all-or-nothing approach. It’s up to them to do it when they feel they can commit to it. Because of this, everything they gain comes from them, from their internal motivation, and not from us.
But it’s not just food and drink they have to refrain from – anyone fasting is also expected to refrain from negative behaviour such as swearing, lying, gossiping, and speaking or acting unkindly.
The Arabic word for fasting is “sawm”, which means “to refrain” – a skill I want my teenage boys to be proficient in.
When I asked Ahmed why he was on board with not forcing the fasting issue, his response was simple: “I don’t want them to resent their religion. They have to want to do it, otherwise they won’t get any benefit from it.”
By not being forced, they are more drawn to it. Seeing their dad (and sometimes me) fast, they’ve always been keen to give it a go. They started by skipping one meal a day, and now often fast the whole day with no problem. They fast as much as they can, with no pressure from us.
By making the decision of whether to fast their choice, what do we as their parents hope to get out of it?
We hope to get boys – who will soon be men – who are able to control themselves, who are able to wait for things in life, who have self-restraint and self-discipline when faced with temptation of any kind, who are able to resist the urge to do something they really want to do but shouldn’t, who are able to see something through to the end even if it gets difficult or uncomfortable.
Our 15-year-old son, Ziad, has his own take on it. “When I fast, I feel empowered and in control of myself,” he says. “And it really makes me appreciate food more! It also makes the family closer because we’re doing something together.”
This year, we’ve found that as we have progressed through the month, the boys have become increasingly motivated to fast. They can feel the benefits. They feel a sense of power over themselves and their decisions. It’s helped them develop a strong mindset.
Over the years, they’ve gone from thinking they couldn’t possibly go without food for a whole day to waking up determined to do it – and realising that something that seems impossible can be achieved if they keep at it.
There are times when less really is more; when you achieve a lot by giving something up.
Ultimately, because it’s their choice, it’s their accomplishment. But it’s everyone’s gain. As Ramadan draws to a close for another year, our boys have taken a few more positive steps on the road to good manhood.
Timothy P Carney, 13 Jun 2018, washingtonexaminer.com
Despite the old saw that money can’t buy happiness, the two tend to be correlated. Up to about $75,000, the higher your income, the happier you tend to be.
Correlation, of course, does not equal causation. It’s quite possible that the connection between money and happiness is not a direct one. It’s hard to root out the causal mechanism because so many of the good things in life correlate with one another. Income, marriage, sobriety, health, and education all tend to coexist in the same people and communities.
That’s why Ramadan can be so educational. The Muslim holy season may actually separate wealth from happiness.
Thursday night at sundown, Ramadan 2018 comes to an end with a feast called Eid al-Fitr, “Fitr” referring to the breaking of the fast.
Throughout Ramadan, Muslims fast during all daylight hours. And this isn’t the sort of fast Catholics do on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, where water is allowed, along with a mini-breakfast and mini-lunch. Ramadan fasting means no food, no drink, no water from sunrise to sunset.
A quirk in the Muslim calendar that makes the current Ramadan more brutal than most. The Islamic calendar doesn’t coincide with the Gregorian calendar or with the earth’s orbit around the sun. The Islamic calendar is based on the moon, and every month comprises the approximately 29 days from new moon to new moon. Twelve of these months, an Islamic year, is about 354 days.
As a result, Ramadan cycles through the calendar year. Ramadan began December 9 in 1999, for instance. In 2016, Ramadan lasted from June 7 to July 5. Because of the longer summer days, Northern Hemisphere Muslims have fasted far more in recent years than they did 18 years ago. Muslims in D.C., for instance, face nearly 15 hours of fasting this year, compared to 9.5 hours in 2000.
So why does this have to do with anything? Economists Filipe Campante and David Yanagizawa-Drott saw this variation in fasting duration as something of a natural experiment. How do longer religious fasts affect a country compared to shorter ones?
So they compared Bangladesh, which is near the equator and thus experiences very little variation in Ramadan fast duration over the years, to Turkey, where the longest day of the summer has nearly 6 hours more sunlight than the shortest day during the winter.
A month with a lot of fasting should affect the people of a country differently than a month with a moderate amount of fasting. Sure enough, the researchers found two correlations.
First, “longer prescribed Ramadan fasting has a robust negative effect on output growth in Muslim countries.” That is, with all sorts of controls in place, the economists found that Turkey’s economy seemed to be dragged down by the longer fasts in years where Ramadan was in the summer — an effect that didn’t pop up in Bangladesh, where summer Ramadan isn’t much different in fast length than winter Ramadan.
It’s not hard to guess why: More fasting means more hours being hungry and low on energy, which means less economic productivity. In these years of longer fasting, GDP per capita fell in Muslim countries with longer fasts, but not in non-Muslim countries.
But here’s the more interesting finding: “increased Ramadan fasting requirements lead Muslim individuals to report greater levels of both happiness and life satisfaction.”
Longer fasts, then, might make Muslims poorer but happier, the study suggests.
As always, the mechanism and causality could be endlessly debated. Maybe it’s a fluke. Maybe the key is the camaraderie formed by sacrifice. Maybe the key is the extra joy of the nighttime meals after the long fast. Maybe it’s the ability to eat outdoors in the warm weather after fasting.
Whatever the actual cause, there seems to be an important lesson that we can generalize beyond Islam and beyond Ramadan: Sacrificing, together with family and community, for a higher cause, can bring happiness, without the need for riches.
This is something to recall in America, where the working class is retreating from religion at the same time it is suffering social and economic woes. When we’re reduced to a secular culture, there’s no escaping the connection between wealth and happiness. The only way to detach those two seems to be through religious sacrifice.
Carol Kuruvilla, 15 Jun 2018, huffingtonpost.ca
A Muslim woman prays at Bensonhurst Park in Brooklyn, New York, to celebrate Eid al-Fitr on June 15, 2018
Alan Taylor, 12 Jun 2018, theatlantic.com
A Palestinian youth waves a sparkler next a mosque in Gaza City on May 16, 2018, as the faithful prepare for the start of Ramadan
Delaney Strunk, 15 Jun 2018, uk.businessinsider.com
Johnny Simon, 15 Jun 2018, qz.com
Iraqi Sunni Muslims attend Eid al-Fitr prayer amid the ruins of a mosque destroyed during the battle against the Islamic State in western Mosul city, Iraq