An Outsider’s Look In On Ramadan

الجمعة 07 أيلول 2007

Written By: Wendy Merdian

As a foreigner living in Jordan, I have been ambivalent about the season of Ramadan. In the beginning of our years here I complained about not being able to eat in public, nicotine-deprived taxi drivers, and the crazy traffic of the pre-sunset hours. But, after time, I have come to appreciate much that the month of Ramadan offers.

What do I like about Ramadan? Qattiyef, children prancing in new clothes, cars packed full of family members off to iftar at Seedo and Tayta’s. The city-wide hush before the call to prayer is sounded. Sacks of food on the sidewalks for the poor and mosques full of men partaking in a free meal.

But what I like most of all about Ramadan is that it makes me think more about what fasting is all about. To be hungry; to identify with those for whom hunger is a constant companion. To practice the discipline of abstaining from that which sustains my physical life in order to be more fully in tune with my spiritual life. To underline the urgency of the prayers that are burdening my heart most.

It is in Ramadan that I return to the promises, conditions and warnings written by the Prophet Isaiah 2,750 years ago concerning fasting, in chapter 58 of his book. Ancient words, yet still applicable today. Holy words, even for the irreligious. Encouraging words, for those who falter. Challenging words that act as a mirror in our own self-evaluation:

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
To loose the chains of injustice
And untie the cords of the yoke,
To set the oppressed free, and break every yoke?

“Is it not to share your food with the hungry
And to provide the poor wanderer with shelter
When you see the naked, to clothe him
And not to turn away from your own blood?

THEN your light will break forth like the dawn,
And your healing will quickly appear:
Then your righteousness will go before you,
And the glory of the Lord your rear guard

THEN you will call, and the Lord will answer;
You will cry for help, and He will say “Here I AM”.

What beautiful promises. The act of fasting helps accomplish the removal of injustice oppression of others – at least in making us more aware and more likely to do what is in our power to stand against it.

It isn’t just the satisfaction of feeding the poor and clothing the naked and sheltering the sojourner that we receive. These acts of reaching out to others actually accomplish a ‘new day’ we had longed for, our own healing, and greater awareness of God’s glory and protection. He won’t just help us by answering our prayer, but by assuring us with His presence.

The chapter actually starts with a warning to the people he was called as a prophet to. He tells them exactly why God is not hearing their prayers:

“On the day of your fast you do as you please
And exploit all of your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarrelling and strife,
And in striking one another with fists.

You cannot fast as you do today
And expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen?”

It is possible we could go through the motions of fasting, depriving ourselves, and yet gain nothing if our actions then contradict our outward piety. It is easier than we would like to think during a time of fasting that we act as if we own the road in heavy traffic, overwork our house-helpers and fight with our family members.

Lastly, there are the conditions of Isaiah, the “ifs” that are the precursors to the
promised “thens”:

“IF you do away with the yoke of oppression
With the pointing finger
With the malicious talk
And IF you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry
And satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
THEN your light will rise in the darkness
And your night will become like the noonday
The Lord will guide you always:
He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
And will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden
Like a spring whose waters never fail”.

That is a refreshing picture of life, especially in a land so devoid of water resources. I think how real those verses will be in a few years when Ramadan falls in the hotter summer months.

Personally, I’d like to skip the warnings and the conditions and go straight to the promises. No doubt we would all prefer the THENs of Isaiah, but it is the outworkings of the “Ifs” in our lives that create character. God, the Merciful, the Compassionate, manifesting His character within us.

That will be my prayer this Ramadan, for myself and my neighbors, when I rise to the sound of the drummer and watch the kitchen lights of my neighborhood gently illumine the night sky.

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