Opinion editor's note: Star Tribune Opinion publishes a mix of national and local commentaries online and in print each day. To contribute, click here.
When I was a kid, my parents encouraged me to fast from sunrise to sundown during the month of Ramadan. The first time I fasted was at age 7. Around the afternoon, I could not continue so I broke my fast prematurely that day. At least I got half credit for my efforts. Ever since I have fasted annually, and from sunrise to sundown.
The last 10 days of March 2023 will mark the first 10 days of Ramadan — a month when Muslims devote their time, attention and energy to serving God. Ramadan has three dimensions — personal, social and spiritual.
First, observant Muslims look inward and practice mindfulness in their daily actions because they cannot eat, drink or have sex from sunrise to sundown — abstinence performed at the will of and service to God — for an entire calendar month each year. Muslims aim to emerge from Ramadan transformed.
Second, although Ramadan is about the individual looking inward, it is also about the community, as the purpose of fasting is largely to remind Muslims of those who live in chronic poverty. Ramadan provides all observant Muslims with a "shared human experience" as they change their daily habits, sometimes dramatically.
For example, where I grew up, in Yemen, Ramadan changes the spirit of the community completely. People congregate at night instead of during the day. The mosques get full, similar to the large collective focus on the Super Bowl or "March Madness" here in the United States. Even those who don't regularly attend the mosque show up during Ramadan.
However, the social aspect of Ramadan has been compromised since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, as Muslims could neither pray nor socialize together in congregations. The communal aspect of Ramadan has come to a halt. But as we are slowly transitioning back to normalcy, this Ramadan might be different.
Third, Ramadan is a spiritual month when Muslims recharge and reconnect with God. The most revered activity in Ramadan, along with fasting, is reading the holy book of Islam, the Qur'an. Fasting trains the self to heighten compassion, self-discipline and thankfulness to the creator; it imparts sympathy to the poor for whom hunger is a common experience; and it reminds us that food and water are God's blessings on which we depend.
For non-Muslims, it might be difficult to support Muslims during Ramadan. But here are some ideas:
First, don't assume your Muslim colleagues are fasting or observing Ramadan spiritual activities. Muslims are not a homogenous group; they are a heterogeneous group with diverse practices, from liberal to conservative, observant to secular. Don't make comments if you observe your Muslim colleague eating during the day. One may skip fasting for either personal or medical reasons.
Second, for some, fasting may not impair productivity or efficiency at work, especially those who have been fasting since childhood. But for others (including myself), fasting may present a real challenge, because we can neither eat nor drink for 12 consecutive hours, roughly from sunrise (around 6 a.m.) to sundown (around 8 p.m.). Support your Muslim colleagues regardless of how they choose to practice.
Third, some Muslim women may decide to wear modest attire during Ramadan because that accords with the spirit of living a traditional Muslim life. Ramadan is a month of deepened spiritual awareness, when more people display full observance of religion.
Ramadan Mubarak ("Blessed Ramadan").
Abdulrahman Bindamnan is a Ph.D. student and an ICGC fellow at the University of Minnesota. He is a research assistant at the Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality & Healing.