Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Ramadan: An Infidel's Perspective

My Muslim friends are now celebrating Ramadan and they certainly need no introduction to this important observance, which this year is from 29th June to 28th July.  But for the rest of us who are not of the Muslim faith I thought it might be helpful to throw a little light on Ramadan and look at the personal development benefits of the festival.  I hope any Muslim scholars reading this will not be offended by this commentary by one who is not of the faithful, but which I hope gives both Ramadan and the practice of Islam the greatest respect.

You probably already know that Ramadan lasts approximately one month, during which the faithful do not eat or drink during the day.  It is, though, rather more than simply a period of fasting.

It is very true that eating and drinking is forbidden between sunrise and sunset during Ramadan.  So too are any sexual relations.  Any good deeds performed during Ramadan are considered to create more benefit than at any other time.  This particularly applies to charitable giving, but also to all other good deeds.  During Ramadan the faithful are expected to pay more attention to their spirituality, including reading the entire Quran.

The benefits of fasting are very well documented.  Intermittent fasting has been shown to increase resistance to disease, improve sensitivity to insulin, improve brain function, and extend lifespan.  The studies have mainly focused on alternate day fasting, but the health benefits are likely to be equally applicable to fasting during the day every day.

Self discipline is also a very good practice.  During Ramadan this is particularly focussed on sexual relations, but is also extended to other matters.  For example swearing, or other "wordly" non-spiritual activities.  Why not simply cut out these activities completely, forever, you may ask.  Well, unlike some Christians, most Muslims would not regard sexual intimacy with one's spouse as in any way sinful or impure.  In fact it could be argued that abstaining from sexual intimacy is sinful, as it is depriving one's spouse of pleasure.  But learning to retain more control over one's desires instead of being a slave to the animal within is a good thing when not taken to extreme.  I think restricting this self-denial to the daylight hours for a month is probably a good balance.  My Christian friends may see a parallel here with Lent.  Indeed, those of my friends familiar with the practices of the Salvation Army call Lent "self denial", so the practice has some similarities with Ramadan, although it is nowhere near as thorough or strict.

As for doing good, it could be argued that this should be the case all year round, not just during one month of the year.  The reality is any good Muslim would completely agree.  The idea is not simply to do good during Ramadan and then be evil the other eleven months!  But Islam recognizes human fallibility.  The idea is to try to do good and avoid evil all year round, but to make even greater effort to do this during Ramadan.  When practised properly the additional focus on doing good and being more spiritual during Ramadan should gradually, year by year, make it easier and easier to be more spiritual and a better person throughout the rest of the year too.

I believe those of us who are not Muslim have much to learn from our Muslim friends.  Perhaps we should begin to adopt some of these practices ourselves, whether during Ramadan, Lent, Yom Kippur or some other time of the year.

And may I conclude by wishing my readers of all faiths and none a very happy and spiritual Ramadan!


  1. This is a very good article. I strongly agree. We need to learn from others and adopt the good practices. All faiths come to purify human souls. Thanks Graham😄.

  2. Thank you for your explanations and words, really the best moments is when you find others observed yours holy and spiritual activities and they feel and discovered the non spiritual benefits.
    Ramadan also famous on social gathering, in Sudan, each neighbor are putting their foods on street to allow others who cross the street to share with them the iftar

  3. Thanks Graham,
    Very nice article, it recaps Ramadan’s philosophy.
    As you mention, the most important to know & understand, as Muslims, is that God give us Ramadan as refresher training, in order to review our spiritual life, habits, relationships,…and keep them in high level for the entire year.

  4. Hi, Graham, You realization about Ramadan is correct. As a Muslim we just don't do good things only in this month, but gaining training from this month we try to implement those practices throughout the whole year.
    Ramadan is indeed a great training period for Muslims to learn self-discipline, self-control,sympathy, patience and many more good characteristics.

    Thank you Graham for your good and true perspectives on other religion's followers.

    Have a good life!

    I'll share your post to all my Muslim friends.