Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar in which Muslims fast from dawn until dusk. This month is considered important by Muslims for a number of reasons. They believe:
1) The Qur’an was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad during this month
Because of this, and Muslims attempt to recite as much of the Qur’an as they can during the month. Most mosques will recite one thirtieth of the Qur’an each night during the Taraweeh prayers.
2) The gates of Heaven are open
3) The gates of Hell are closed and the devils are chained up in Hell
Muslims believe that their good actions bring a greater reward during this month than at any other time of year, because this month has been blessed by Allah. They also believe that it is easier to do good in this month because the devils have been chained in Hell, and so can’t tempt believers. This doesn’t mean that Muslims will not behave badly, but that any evil that they do comes from within themselves, without additional encouragement from Satan.
But even without the religious elements Ramadan are still inspiring occasions that non-religious people could learn from.
Almost all Muslims try to give up bad habits during Ramadan, and some will try to become better Muslims by praying more or reading the Qur’an. They will also fast the whole month (between dawn and dusk), reflect on others in need and exercise self-control in all areas, including food, sleeping, sex and the use of time.
Ramadan in some ways resembles the Christian festival of Lent. Lent is the period of forty days which comes before Easter and is a season of reflection and preparation before the celebrations of Easter. By observing the forty days of Lent, Christians replicate Jesus’s sacrifice and withdrawal into the desert for forty days. Lent is marked by fasting, both from food and festivities.
Fasting, self-discipline and thoughtfulness are all activities we could all focus on for a month in order to reap benefits throughout the entire year:
- Instead of praying humanists could meditate, read about the lives of inspiring atheists, or ethics
- In an age of binge drinking, poor diets, obesity, factory farming, food and water miles, and starvation and drought, fasting seems more needed than ever as a means of thinking more about what we eat and drink and how it impacts on ourselves and the world around us
- Self control in sexual behaviour, our speech and other aspects of our life can help remind of us of our responsibilities to our fellow humans, the importance of respect and valuing the relationships we have we each other
- As the reality of environmental damage becomes ever more apparent, we could use the month to look at this dimension of our lives. We could think harder about what we buy and use and whether they are ethical, sustainable or even needed. It was only recently that Neil Boorman torched his designer wardrobe and possessions and tried to live a brand-free life for a year – maybe he could serve as an inspiration
Of course these are things we might consider throughout the year, but by focusing on them for a particular period of time the impact might be more substantial. There is clearly much for humanists to learn from religion without compromising our beliefs.