Physician’s Best Memories Are Of Ramadan

Dr. Hesham Hassaballa

Posted Oct 6, 2005      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Physician’s Best Memories Are Of Ramadan

In the Name of God, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful

Thanks be to God, this commentary was published today by the Religion News Service.

Physician’s Best Memories Are Of Ramadan

Ramadan has always been a special time for me. It began this year at sundown Tuesday (Oct. 4), and I am observing the holy month by abstaining from food, drink, and other sensual pleasures from before sunrise until sunset.

Even though Ramadan takes away one of my greatest loves—a large cup of coffee in the morning with lots of cream and sugar—the spiritual benefit of Ramadan far outweighs anything I may suffer.

The Quran states that “fasting has been prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may attain consciousness ofGod” (2:183). When I voluntarily forgo things normally allowed for me—food, drink, and most especially coffee—it is a potent reminder of the ultimate purpose of life: to live in the worship and service of God and place God before anything else. Yet the fast is much more than simply self-denial.

Maintaining the most upright moral character is an important requirement of the fast. If someone were to cut me off in traffic while I am fasting, I must refrain from screaming out any number of unpleasant phrases, no matter how angry I feel at being so rudely slighted. Do this for an entire month, it is hoped, and this noble character will carry through for the rest of the year.

I have been observing the fast of Ramadan ever since I was 9 years old, and even though I become tired for the first few days, fasting is really not that hard. In fact, some of the best memories of my life are connected to Ramadan.

In the fifth grade, our school track and field day was during Ramadan; my class won first place in every event. In high school, the most important track meet of the season was during Ramadan, and I had to throw the shot over 40 feet to ensure our team a first-place win; I threw the shot 40 feet, 6 inches. I had my medical school interview during Ramadan; I was accepted three months later. Just last year, my pulmonary medicine certification exam fell during Ramadan; today, I am a board-certified pulmonologist.

Fasting helps cleanse my soul of the impurities that come with the human condition, and it frees me from the bondage of this earthly existence and re-directs my spirit more “God-ward.” Whatever trepidation I may have felt for having to forgo coffee in the morning—if I performed my fast correctly—is long gone by the end of the month. Moreover, when I break my fast with other Muslims, or pray special congregational prayers in the mosque, the bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood—easily shattered by life in the 21st Century—are rekindled once again. Ramadan is a time like no other, and when all is said and done and the month is over—even though I can drink coffee in the morning again—I always feel a bit saddened.

The Islamic calendar is a lunar one, and thus the start of Ramadan rotates backward around the solar calendar each year. I remember fasting during the summer, when the sun would set at 8:30 p.m., and I also remember fasting in the dead of winter, when I got to eat and drink at 4:30 p.m. Both memories are fond ones.

With every Ramadan comes an opportunity and a challenge. The opportunity is to polish my spirit and allow the light of God—obscured by my sins and shortcomings—to shine through and illuminate my way. The challenge is to keep that light from becoming dim once again.