Saturday, September 4, 2010

Elul Reflections 9: A Muslim sister reflects on Ramadan

This year, the month of Elul has largely coincided with the holy month of Ramadan.  There are some specific rituals associated with Ramadan - a daily fast from sunrise to sundown for the month, the giving of charity, and a heightened consciousness around not engaging in gossip or malicious speech.  While there are differences, these two months share much in common - a time of spiritual purification and preparation, a time of atonement, and a time of re-centering ourselves in relationship to God and to others as we strive to be the best human being we can be.

Over the past four years, through the work of an interfaith group, The Tent of Abraham, our congregation has built bridges and created new friendships with Christians and Muslims in our local community.  We organize 2-3 dialog programs each year, and a parallel program brings our teenagers together each Spring.

Last week, our Rosh Hodesh group - the women's spirituality group of B'nai Israel - was invited to Iftar - break-fast - with the women of the Bridgeport Islamic Community Center.  It was a wonderful evening of sharing and meeting and our hosts laid on a feast.  We are looking forward to reciprocating when we host an evening for Christian, Muslim and Jewish women during our Festival of Sukkot later this month.

This evening, our guest post is by Olga Shibtini.  Olga is the Vice-President of the Bridgeport Islamic Community Center, is involved with the Tent of Abraham and helps to organize our teen interfaith program.  She shares with us the meaning of Ramadan for her.  We wish all of our Muslim friends a Blessed Ramadan.  May our spiritual practice inspire us to reach ever higher and reach out as we continue to build the bridges between us.
Rabbi Rachel Gurevitz

My feelings for Ramadan have changed tremendously over the years since I first became a Muslim 16 years ago.  Initially, I didn't like it because I didn't undersand the true meaning and spirituality of the month.  I used to just look at it as another month faced with not eating or drinking anything from sunrise to sunset and actually being depressed over it. 

However, as the years passed and I began to really understand the true meaning of what it really means to fast, I started loving the month of Ramadan and even feeling sad when it came to an end.

Many times we are so busy that we cannot find the time to really connect with God.  Maybe we go through the motions of prayers and of everything else during the day, but we really don't feel connected because we are so busy working, eating, etc.  However, during Ramadan everything changes.  We tend to slow down a bit and find more time to be with family and friends breaking fast together and praying at the mosque.  I remember the first time I really understood what it meant to sacrifice something for the sake of God, and how I felt ashamed of myself for initially seeing this month as an obstacle rather than as a reward that God gives us to cleanse our souls and be forgiven for our sins. 
And, of course, the realization that this is the month when God opens the heavens and closes the gates of hell made me feel like a fool for not appreciating the chance that God gives me to be forgiven by allowing me to live another year and make it to another month of Ramadan.  How blessed  am I that God grants me this reward.

I never really quite understood the meaning of our supplications being answered more during the month of Ramadan until my husband became very ill in 1998.  It was during the last 10 days of Ramadan and he was given a 50/50 chance to survive.  He was hospitalized in the intensive care unit at St. Vincent's Medical Center.  I recall staying up most of the night asking God to save my husband so that my then 7 year old son would not be left without his father, and I remember feeling really connected with God and his giving me a sense of calm and peace during those nights when I didn't know whether my husband would live or die.  I still remember when I returned to the hospital the second day and having the doctors tell me that my husband was going to make it.  I just knew God had really heard me.
This is my most cherished memory of Ramadan.

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