Assalamualaikum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh,

Peace and blessings be upon you.

I greet you with the greeting of Islam because I am writing about one of the most important months in the Muslim calendar. That month is Ramadan.

For those of you who are unaware, Ramadan is a time of “cleansing” in a Muslim’s life, both spiritually and physically. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise (fajr) to sunset (maghrib) (nb, these terms are not translations). This means no food, no water, no sex.

Many people get so caught up in the minutia of Ramadan such as the moon-sighting and the exact time of sunrise and sunset that they forget the whole point of Ramadan, which is self-restraint.

It says in the Qur’an,

O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint.

    —Surah Bakarah 2:183

There is some ambiguity in the last term, “self-restraint.” Some translate it to be “god-awareness,” but for all intents and purposes, let’s go with self-restraint.

It’s an interesting concept, because there is nothing inherently wrong with eating or drinking. However, during the days of Ramadan, it is forbidden for the Muslim to eat or drink (there are some exceptions).

Ramadan is all about foregoing the normal pleasures of the day in order to attain a higher sense of awareness, both in terms of self and in terms of God. Every pang of hunger is a reminder of God, resulting in greater piety. Or, it could simply be a reminder of self-discipline. Let’s face it, if you can get up at 3:30am to eat breakfast, not eat or drink until 8:30pm, and then stay up and pray from 10 to midnight, there’s not much you can’t do, if you have the motivation to do it.

And in this regard, I believe everyone can benefit from fasting, even if they are not religious.

So my challenge to you is to take one day this month (sometime between 18 June and 17 July, 2015) and fast. If you know a Muslim, tell them, “Hey, I’m fasting with you today.”

See how much your focus changes when you don’t have to worry about the basic pleasures of food.