Ramadan Is The Ultimate Pattern Interruption

We are well into the second half of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting. As happens every year, I cannot believe how quickly this month has come and seems to be going. Ramadan is nearly Ramadone (sorry). Even though we can see the finish line fast approaching, I thought it would still be worthwhile to share some quotes and videos that hopefully enhance the overall experience for Muslims during this blessed month. And for Muslims and non-Muslims alike, hopefully they will also increase our knowledge and understanding of the many dimensions of Ramadan and fasting.

According to Professor Tariq Ramadan, one of the world’s foremost Muslim academics, this month is when we master hunger, bodily appetites, and our human impulses so we can release the noblest energies of our being. To put it another way, as is commonly said about fasting, we starve the body to feed the soul.

Before we get to the quotes, I wanted to share my views on what Ramadan means to me. Ramadan is the ultimate pattern interruption, a phrase I first heard from my favourite Muslim scholar Shaykh Hamza Yusuf. In a lecture Shaykh Hamza spoke about an incident involving the Prophet Muhammad and one of his companions, Anas Ibn Malik. Anas was politely asked by the Prophet to do something, to which he abruptly replied no. Instead of censuring him, the Prophet smiled and walked out the room. He came back a few minutes later and asked Anas if he had done what had been asked of him earlier. This time Anas calmly replied that he would get to it right away.

Modern psychology refers to this as pattern interruption, a technique where you do something unexpected to completely offset somebody, thus interrupting an expected pattern. In this case Anas would have expected the Prophet to get angry and perhaps raise his voice. However, instead of reacting negatively, this pattern was interrupted by the Prophet simply smiling and exiting the room, leaving Anas to gather his thoughts.

The month of Ramadan is an entire month of pattern interruption. For 11 months of the year we behave in a certain way, but during this one month every pattern in our lives is interrupted. Eating, sleeping, working, travelling, mornings, evenings, socialising – patterns that we are used to being so dominant throughout the year are altered during this month. Ultimately what is in our hearts should also change, for this is the month of forgiveness, not just asking forgiveness from God, but also from and to each other. Ramadan is also the month of the Qur’an, so our reading patterns should also change to incorporate this blessed book as much as possible.

Below are a few other views from Muslims and non-Muslims. We start with a few quotes from Professor Ramadan, all taken from one brilliant article [https://www.abc.net.au/religion/ramadan-is-over-but-the-struggle-goes-on/10100358] that is well worth reading in full. We end with American comedian Hasan Minhaj giving us his view on Ramadan. There are also two videos, one from a non-Muslim doctor on the benefits of fasting, and another from the world-famous Mufti Menk on the least that Muslims should do during this month. As always, enjoy!

Ramadan is a month of discipline that teaches us the deepest meaning of dignity and liberty for humankind, among humankind…Ramadan teaches us that our humanity demands full awareness and full-time commitment, for ourselves and for our fellow human beings. – Professor Tariq Ramadan, 20 Aug 2012, abc.net.au

Fasting is, first and foremost, an exercise for identifying and managing adversity in all its forms. With faith, in full conscience, fasting calls women and men to an extra degree of self-awareness. Instead of looking outside of ourselves and counting potential enemies, fasting summons us to turn our glance inward, and to take the measure of our greatest challenge: the self, the ego, in our own eyes and as others see us. – Professor Tariq Ramadan, 20 Aug 2012, abc.net.au

The aim of fasting is to gain mastery over ourselves, to become aware of our illusions, to become the agents of our actions – and not the object of our own pretensions or someone else’s gaze. The philosophy of fasting calls upon us to know ourselves, to master ourselves, and to discipline ourselves the better to free ourselves. To fast is to identify our dependencies, and free ourselves from them. – Professor Tariq Ramadan, 20 Aug 2012, abc.net.au

Fasting requires that we rediscover all that is alive around us, and reconcile ourselves with our environment. Fasting with our bodies enables us to see more clearly with our hearts: the Qur’an reminds us that hearts become blind, not eyes. A blind heart sees nothing but self and its illusions; it cannot contemplate nature, the living creatures around it, and those like it. – Professor Tariq Ramadan, 20 Aug 2012, abc.net.au

Fasting teaches us the secrets of reconciliation, of transcending our weakness and our human contradictions: there can be no freedom without discipline, no true peace without struggle and resistance. Fasting reveals humanity’s curious destiny: the serenity of unbound conscience can only be won by a struggle against the dictatorship of illusion, of false needs or of despots. – Professor Tariq Ramadan, 20 Aug 2012, abc.net.au

The most important aspect of the Ramadan fast is to focus on the painful fact that it is we who are poor. Each and every one of us. However much we appear to be, or to have, in reality we are all absolutely impotent, absolutely weak, absolutely poor, absolutely needy and absolutely dependent…All that we have and all that we are is dependent for its existence at each moment on the grace, generosity, compassion, wisdom, and will of the All-Glorious Creator. Unless we get in touch with our poverty, we cannot possibly give worshipful thanks to our Creator, Who is utterly Self-Sufficient and devoid of all lack or need. If we think we are something, or have something, we cannot get in touch with our reality, which is utter dependence, at every moment, on the continuing grace and munificence of our Lord and Maker. Only by understanding what we are not can we even begin to understand what He is. – Dr Colin Turner, 27 Apr 2021, themuslimvibe.com

Fasting is a perfect quieting of all our impulses, fleshly and spiritual. Fasting is not meant to drag us down, but to still us. It is not meant to distract us from the real, but rather to silence us so that we can hear things as they most truly are. – Thomas Aquinas

Prayer is reaching out after the unseen; fasting is letting go of all that is seen and temporal. Fasting helps express, deepen, confirm the resolution that we are ready to sacrifice anything, even ourselves to attain what we seek for the kingdom of God. – Andrew Murray

One way to begin to see how vastly indulgent we usually are is to fast. It is a long day that is not broken by the usual three meals. One finds out what an astonishing amount of time is spent in the planning, purchasing, preparing, eating, and cleaning up of meals. – Elisabeth Elliot

If the solemnities of our fasting, though frequent, long, and severe, do not serve to put an edge upon devout affections, to quicken prayer, to increase Godly sorrow, and to alter the temper of our minds, and the course of our lives, for the better, they do not at all answer the intention, and God will not accept them as performed to Him. – Matthew Henry

By fasting, the body learns to obey the soul; by praying the soul learns to command the body. – William Secker

The purpose of fasting is to loosen to some degree the ties which bind us to the world of material things and our surroundings as a whole, in order that we may concentrate all our spiritual powers upon the unseen and eternal things. – Ole Hallesby

Fasting in the biblical sense is choosing not to partake of food because your spiritual hunger is so deep, your determination in intercession so intense, or your spiritual warfare so demanding that you have temporarily set aside even fleshly needs to give yourself to prayer and meditation. – Wesley L Duewel

There are five pillars of belief in Islam. Some Islamic schools of thought include a sixth pillar: jihad. True jihad in Islam is mostly about the personal struggle to be faithful to God. In that sense, Ramadan may be seen as a form of jihad…My husband managed a construction company in Saudi. Once we decided to go to the local Pizza Hut in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia for iftar. I love pizza! They had a pizza buffet, so…yeah, sign me up! We got there early and grabbed a table. The restaurant was packed with hungry Saudis. When it was almost time to break the fast, waiters started bringing out pizzas of every kind – thin, thick, supreme, Hawaiian, pepperoni, meat-lovers…We waited patiently. But when it was time to eat, there was no pizza. Everyone else had gone to the buffet ahead of time and piled their plates with slices – I mean, people had the equivalent of an entire pizza pie on their plates, and there was nothing left for those of us who had waited. It was gross. Eventually more pizzas arrived, and we had our turn. As we left, we looked around at the tables, now deserted, and saw tons of half-eaten slices left behind. It was sad. That was not jihad. – Kathryn Shihadah, 13 Apr 2021, patheos.com

Ramadan is the time where we should, once more, rediscover our collective strength…Ramadan should be a time of spiritual reflection and a reordering of our collective priorities. Unfortunately, in the age of globalisation, unmitigated consumption and self-centred, individualistic approach to life, our relationship with Ramadan is veering off from its intended goal to something else entirely. Ramadan is usually the most charitable month for Muslims, a time that is dedicated to prayer, to giving, to seeking forgiveness. It is an amalgamation between the individual’s spiritual rebirth. It is during this month that it feels as if political boundaries are removed and Muslims claim a new sense of collective identity, regardless of where they are in the world. Their point of unity becomes their mutual fast and the associated communal activities — feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, caring for the orphans, and so on…Ramadan is not a time for eating, but fasting; it is not a time for singing and dancing, but reflecting and praying; it is not a time for the accumulation of wealth, but for generosity and charity. More, Ramadan is the time where we should, once more, rediscover its collective strength, for the sake of all Muslims; in fact, for the sake of humanity at large. Ramadan Mubarak. – Ramzy Baroud, 21 Apr 2021, gulfnews.com

For the majority of our life during the year we build spirituality around the day-to-day responsibilities of the world, of dunya. “I’ll pray Isha a little bit later…maybe I’ll sleep through Fajr…I’ve got a meeting so I’ll skip Dhohur…maybe I won’t go to Jumma because I really have to go to this other thing.” And Ramadan for me is this reset where spirituality becomes the core and then I try to build the world around that. And it’s a really good reminder for me to really understand what is this all about, why am I here, what is my purpose on earth? One of the cool things about generosity, specifically in Ramadan, and it got me to become closer to my faith, is that the concept of zakat and giving is about giving back because it doesn’t belong to you. One of the things we often forget here in America is that there’s a sense of entitlement. “I earned this, I deserve this, this is my money, this is mine, I owe it to nobody.” Zakat specifically is about giving because you were lucky enough to be bestowed with wealth or health, and it’s your job and duty to share it. What it has done for me is it’s allowed me to have a connection to the present collective, so it makes me think it’s my duty to be of service to others. Covid exposed the fault lines in society that we already saw, but those cracks got even deeper and even uglier. So now you can’t look away from the fault lines of the haves and the have-nots, the rent and eviction crisis, furloughs, layoffs. These are really, really, sad, sad things, and that separation between people who got it and people who don’t, that chasm has become bigger. So, for me during Ramadan, if you’re lucky enough, you’re employed, you’re able to maintain employment, you’re able to hang on to some level of savings. One of the things this month hopefully will do for us is give us an opportunity to look to those who, unfortunately due to circumstances because of the pandemic or not, don’t have the resources and so it’s our job to help them. My one overriding prayer or hope for this Ramadan would obviously be for the health and wellness of friends, family and everyone I know around the world, and then just for myself is to be a person of service, to give more than I take. – Hasan Minhaj


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