Many Forms Of Fasting*
By Imam Khalid Latif
I woke up this morning to the pleasant sounds of my 7-month-old daughter Madina talking to herself in her crib. We share a special time most days for a couple of hours where it’s just she and I together before I have to leave for the day. I removed her from her swaddle cloth and changed her diaper before letting her loose on the carpet so she could commence crawling like a solider dragging herself through a trench.
As she set out on her mission, I opened my laptop and started to read the news when I came across this video featuring Yasiin Bey, more popularly known as Mos Def. In it, Yasiin volunteers to undergo a procedure of force-feeding that detainees at Guantanamo Bay are being put through in response to partaking in hunger strikes to protest their long detentions without a trial. It’s beyond intense. What’s even crazier is that after going through a day of fasting, Muslims at Guantanamo will be force-fed in the nights. And in some instances, the force-feeding may still be done during the day, preventing those who wish to observe Ramadan from actually fasting.
May God make things easy for these men and women.
It only truly dawned on me then how different and varied the experience of fasting can be from person to person because of how different life can be from person to person. While I break my fast with with friends and family, the men and women of Guantanamo will have their fast purposely broken far away from any family — some being detained now for almost a decade.
In the past couple of years of writing these reflections, my starting point has been with my intention. What am I hoping to gain from Ramadan? A goal of fasting though is the annihilation of the self, so my gains can’t be purely focused on me. They have to incorporate others, inclusive of those whose realities are starkly different than mine. Where do those who find themselves in places of need factor into my Ramadan? The orphans, the widows, the elderly, the oppressed? Those who are seemingly forgotten by the world, those who have no food or drink to break their fast with, those who have no friends or family to break their fast with, those whose lives are different than my own.
Through these next 30 days I can gain a better understanding of who I am, what I have, and how my fasting is not just good for me, but a source of benefit for those around me. I can see and strive towards reaching my potential, not being scared of it, but rather having the courage to embrace it. I can be brave enough to try to start, improve, or deepen my relationship with the Divine. Or I can make it about being hungry and thirsty and not only keeping myself from moving forward, but also those around me from growing because they are waiting and need me to move first.
As in years past, I would like to start the month with a quote from a female Islamic scholar named Fariha Fatima that my wife Priya shared with me before we got married. My hope is that is will offer an insight as to really how deep the practice of fasting can be if we let it be.
“There are as many forms of fasting as there are organs of perception and sensation, and each of these has many different levels. So we ask to fast from all that Allah does not love for us, and to feast on what the Beloved loves for us. Let us certainly fast from the limited mind, and all that it conjures up. Let us fast from fear, apart from fear and awe of Allah’s majesty. Let us fast from thinking that we know, when Allah alone is the Knower. Let us fast from thinking negatively of anyone. Let us fast from our manipulations and strategies. Let us fast from all complaint about the life experiences that Allah gives us. Let us fast from our bad habits and our reactions. Let us fast from desiring what we do not have. Let us fast from obsession. Let us fast from despair. Let us fast from not loving our self, and from denying our heart. Let us fast from selfishness and self-centered behavior. Let us fast from thinking that only what serves us is important. Let us fast from seeing reality only from our own point of view. Let us fast from seeing any reality other than Allah, and from relying on anything other than Allah. Let us fast from desiring anything other than Allah and Allah’s Prophets and friends, and our own true self. Essentially, let us fast from thinking that we have any existence separate from Allah.”