Thursday, August 9, 2012

An annual chance to connect

Effective worship is supposed to change you; especially annual acts like fasting and the once-in-a lifetime ones like Hajj. Fortunate are those of us who are changed for the better after each unit of prayer. At the outset a 16-hour fast feels overwhelming and intimidating. And yet fasting in Ramadan brings a palpable physical strength and great spiritual vigor.

Every Ramadan is an opportunity to connect; to our Creator, to ourselves and to our fellow beings. Allah provides us with opportunity after opportunity to know Him, feel His presence, praise and adore Him. “When My servants ask you O Muhammad concerning Me, I am indeed close (to them): I listen to the prayer of every supplicant when he calls on Me: Let them also, with a will, Listen to My call, and believe in Me: That they may walk in the right way”. (Baqara 2:186). And then in Surah Qaf (50:16) “It was We who created man and We know what dark suggestions his soul makes to him: for We are nearer to him than his jugular vein.”

In the busy-ness called life we tend to forget that the One who is our best friend and the most constant companion is an entity that we are heedless about. Every Ramadan can serve as spiritual polish that can shine up our hearts and create and reinforce a strong bond with Allah.

Prayer remains the best zikr or remembrance of God as well as providing moments of calm and peace. With its infinite blessings Ramadan provides an even greater opportunity to connect and reinforce the connection with God. A beautiful Hadith of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) says: “worship Allah as though you are seeing Him and while you see Him not, yet truly He sees you”. Reminding oneself of this touching Hadith is an effective way to magnetize your mind to prayer and to concentrate; soon you will feel an amazing peace descend on you and when you finish, the struggles of the day will seem minuscule.

Another connection to forge in Ramadan is with yourself. Being in touch with yourself physically, emotionally and spiritually can go a long way toward achieving success in this world and the next. The changes that the body feels during a long fast force us to pay heed to our physical selves. It is important, especially in a summer Ramadan, to hydrate yourself well at suhoor and iftar. During Ramadan (and even otherwise) avoid sodas, highly sweetened beverages and too much caffeine.

One of the great tests of Ramadan is sleep deprivation; so reduce your caffeine use and concentrate it at suhoor so that the reduced sleep that you do get during Ramadan is a rested one. Caffeine, especially when taken late in the evening, is very disruptive to good restorative sleep.

"(Fast for) a certain number of days. But whoever among you is sick or on a journey, then (he shall fast) the same number of other days, and for those who are able to fast but with hardship, (there is) a redemption by feeding an indigent.” (Baqarah 2:183) People with uncontrolled chronic diseases should not be fasting, for example patients with uncontrolled high blood pressure or diabetics who are on insulin. Your doctor is the best resource to determine your fasting suitability.

“God desires ease for you, and desires not hardship” (Baqarah 2:185) so it is important for us not to become “Ramadan warriors” and fast a 16-hour fast when we are not in good health. It is indeed true that Ramadan is physically rejuvenating for the body, but only for bodies that are healthy. When health is questionable, the dehydration of Ramadan alone can accelerate kidney stones and seriously lower blood sugar in uncontrolled diabetics among many other issues.

Try to avoid suhoor and iftar meals loaded with sugar or simple carbohydrates. Try to have protein, such as chicken, turkey, fish and eggs, and complex carbodydrates such as whole grain bread and vegetables; this way you will avoid your blood sugar going suddenly high and then immediately dropping causing drowsiness, fatigue, headache and severe hunger pangs. Breaking your fast with dates that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) loved is a good way to give you immediate energy. But again avoid overindulging.

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said that Islam was the deen (religion) of muamila or how you treat other human beings and deal with them. We are instructed to be observant of all rules of good conduct even more carefully during fasting. And Ramadan provides us the annual opportunity to connect with our families, our friends, our neighbors and co-workers and hone our skills in treating them well.

The greatest measure of our success in Ramadan is whether we can continue our connection with Allah, maintain harmony with our physical and emotional health and retain the kind consideration to those around us that we learned in Ramadan.

Mahjabeen Islam M.D. is an addictionist and family physician in practice in Perrysburg. She is also president of the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo