**Disclaimer: This will be an unusual blog about Ramadan, written by a former “good Catholic girl”, who does not consider herself religious, but feels strong ties with the Divine through all religions in the world. This post records my own personal second-hand experiences of Ramadan through the eyes of the woman I was when I was married to a Muslim man.**
Ramadan is a holy month of fasting, introspection and prayer for Muslims, the followers of Islam. This year, it began at sunset on Monday, April 12, and will end at sunset on Wednesday, May 12.
Like I said above, I’m not Muslim. My parents gave me a Catholic upbringing. They’re not practicing Catholics themselves, so I always felt I was on my own journey, exploring my own relationship with the Divine or Source. I felt strong ties to the Source and it manifested itself in some vague memories of other altered state of consciousness, so my relationship with the world was bit reserved and inquisitive, especially in my younger years. I felt that God was loving, that we’re rotted in that love, and that despite our “good” or “bad” deeds, God was forgiving and not punishing.
As I grew older, I felt that Catholicism had never really spoken to me. Personally, many of its doctrines made me raise my eyebrows: The Bible’s many references to both a “loving God” and “angry God”, the paradoxical idea of a “Holy Trinity” where God is his own Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the body being viewed as a source of all evil, to the point that Jesus was the result of “immaculate conception” because Mary was a virgin, “pure and without sin”
As I got older, I started questioning the very presence of the Catholic Church in my life.
In September 1986, I left my home in Poland and moved to London, U.K. This was the start of my journey into adulthood. I severed my ties with the Catholic Church at around that same time and have never looked back.
Very soon after arriving in the U.K., I met my now-ex-husband, Karim Mohammed. He was Spanish-Moroccan and Muslim. Although we’re no longer married, we spend about five years of our lives together.
Like all Muslims, Karim observed Ramadan, I still recall how important his religion was to him, particularly around Ramadan. We were very young then. We didn’t discuss our religions, except perhaps to occasionally compare notes about Islam and Christianity. I found so many similarities between these two religions, I could hardly tell there was any difference. I felt we were connected to the same Source, despite our religions. Just like all roads lead to Rome, all religions lead to God.
I think that concept of oneness brought me closer to my husband at the time, even though we came from very different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. I was born in Russia and carried that Russian nationality into adulthood, but in my heart I felt Polish. Perhaps this complex/loose Polish identity and my early experiences helped me to understand we are not the labels others may give us at birth.
I didn’t think it was important to Karim that I became Muslim. I wanted to address this here because I think there’s a strong misconception that Muslims are not open to other cultures and ethic backgrounds. I cannot speak for others, but in my experience this was not the case.
Karim fasted from dawn to dusk during Ramadan. He carried a little notebook and was aware of the times of sunrise and sunset. We both worked during the week, but on weekends we went to a mosque in London where they prepared meals for those who fasted. I remembered on one occasion I started eating one of those meals before sunset. A woman there reminded me that the sun hadn’t set yet. Karim quickly came to my defense. He told her I wasn’t Muslim and so I could eat at any time.
Later, when I was in my mid-thirties and living in Canada, I enrolled in Religious Studies, one of the elective courses in my Fine Arts program. My chosen subject was Monotheistic Religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. I was drawn to this subject because the focus would be the historical side of these religions, not the dogmas or beliefs attached to them. Moses, Jesus and Mohammed are historical figures that actually walked the earth. Before they were proclaimed as prophets, divine or chosen, they were human first.
Many of us have heard the expression, “many are called but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14). But what does it mean? Perhaps we’re all called but only a few will respond; perhaps those who respond are the ones who are truly hearing the voice that speaks for God. Jesus said many times, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” What speaks to me about this phrase is that we are all chosen, but we have a choice (a free will) to respond to a calling or not. I feel that our goal in life shouldn’t be to be like Moses, Jesus or Mohammed, but to become the best version of ourselves by aligning with the Divinity already present in each of us. Jesus didn’t become Jesus by pretending he was like Moses, so we shouldn’t pretend we are like Jesus or Mohammed to be our true selves.
This is significant to me, and it’s what I find so fascinating about the story of Mohammed, from the historical point of view and without being attached to Islam. I recognize Mohammed as human being first – a human being who was able to channel the Divine by simply following the calling of his own soul. He didn’t know at the time he would become the bearer of God’s word.
I recently came across a writing, “The last Great Prophet,” reviewed by Thomas Sugrue and shared in the book “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill. I will quote Sugrue here:
“Mohammed was a prophet, but he never performed a miracle. He was not a mystic; he had no formal schooling, he did not begin his mission until he was 40. When he announced that he was the Messenger of God, bringing word of the true religion, he was ridiculed and labeled a lunatic. He was banished from his native city Mecca and his followers were stripped of their worldly goods and sent into the desert after him.”
“Mohammed was born into poverty. When he was 28 years old, Khadija the widow looked upon him with favour and married him. For the next 12 years Mohammed lived as a rich and respected and very shrewd trader. One day he returned with the first verse of the Koran and told Khadija that the Archangel Gabriel had appeared to him and said that he was to be the Messenger of God.”
The book of Napoleon Hill examines the origins of many ordinary people who used simple formulas before they became very successful in their undertakings. One of these formulas was “persistence.” When we examine Mohammed’s life, we can see how he had been preaching ten years and had nothing to show for it but banishment, poverty and ridicule.
“Yet”, writes Sugrue, “another ten years passed, and he became dictator of all Arabia, ruler of Mecca, and the head of a New World religion which was to sweep to the Danube and the Pyrenees.
“The Koran, the revealed word of God, was the closest thing to a miracle in Mohamed’s life. He had not been a poet; he had no gift of words. Yet the verses of the Koran, as he received them and recited them to the faithful, were better than any verses the professional poets of the tribes could produce. This to the Arabs was a miracle. To them the gift of words was the greatest gift, the poet was all-powerful. In addition, the Koran said that all men were equal before God, that he world should be a democratic state-Islam. It was this political heresy, plus Mohammed’s desire to destroy all the 360 idols in the courtyard of the Caaba, which brought about his banishment.”
Muslims celebrate Ramadan as the month during which Mohammed received the initial revelation of the Koran, the holy book of Islam. Fasting is one of the five fundamental principles of this religion, seen as a way to cleanse the soul and develop empathy for those who are hungry and less fortunate.
During Ramadan, Muslims practice self-restrain and self-reflection. Each day during this holy month, Muslims do not eat or drink from sunrise to sunset.
As a person who does not consider herself Muslim, I find many valuable lessons in Ramadan. It’s a time to reflect on those who are less fortunate in the world, to grow empathy for those who experience hardships, famine and poverty, to cleanse the soul and regain purity in mind, body and spirit.
What are your direct or indirect experiences with Ramadan? Does fasting inspire you in some ways? Does it prompt reflections.
During Ramadan, Muslims practice self-restraint and self-reflection. Each day during this holy month, Muslims do not eat or drink from sunrise to sunset.
As a person who does not consider herself Muslim, I find many valuable lessons in Ramadan. OIt’s a time to reflect on those who are less fortunate in the world, to grow empathy for those who experience hardships, famine and poverty, to cleanse the soul and regain purity in mind, body and spirit.
What are your direct or indirect experiences with Ramadan? Does fasting inspire you in some ways? Does it prompt reflection? Share your thoughts in the comments below.