For much of America, Ramadan goes mostly unnoticed. During the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, lasting 29 or 30 days, Muslims in Michigan and around the world spend the daylight hours in a complete fast. No food, no drink. Many of our Lutheran Social Services of Michigan staff, including quite a few workers at MapleCreek senior living in Grand Rapids, are Muslims, some of them refugees. This month they have faithfully gone on with their jobs while denying themselves.
"They are preparing and serving us our meals while going hungry themselves," said MapleCreek's ordained chaplain Rev. Rebecca Ebb-Speese. "They are cleaning our apartments and our buildings and doing other physical work without any water to quench their thirst. August is the hottest time of the year, and the days are long. This is our special opportunity to recognize their devotion to their faith and to thank them their dedication to their jobs and the well-being of our residents during their month-long daytime fast."
Albert Preniqi, 21, works in food service at MapleCreek. He gets up early before sunrise to drink three big glasses of water and prepare for the day. "It's an honor to fast during Ramadan," he said. "It really doesn't bother me. It makes me feel closer to God. And after sunset, Muslim families are all together for a big meal. It's a month that teaches you patience, perseverance and peace with others. It also models a good example to the children who are not old enough to participate. I started fasting during Ramadan just four years ago."
Muslims are called upon to use this month to re-evaluate their lives in light of Islamic guidance. They are to make peace with those who have wronged them, strengthen ties with family and friends, do away with bad habits -- essentially to clean up their lives, thoughts, and feelings. The Arabic word for "fasting" (sawm) literally means "to refrain" - and it means not only refraining from food and drink, but from evil actions, thoughts, and words. During Ramadan, every part of the body must be restrained. The tongue must be restrained from backbiting and gossip. The eyes must restrain themselves from looking at unlawful things. The hand must not touch or take anything that does not belong to it. The ears must refrain from listening to idle talk or obscene words. The feet must refrain from going to sinful places. In such a way, every part of the body observes the fast. Therefore, fasting is not merely physical, but is rather the total commitment of the person's body and soul to the spirit of the fast. Ramadan is a time to practice self-restraint; a time to cleanse the body and soul from impurities and re-focus one's self on the worship of God.
"It's a special time," Preniqi said. "In a large way, the spirit around Ramadan for Muslims is a lot like the warm feeling of goodwill toward others at Christmastime. I enjoy both."