For Muslims around the world, Ramadan marks the holiest month in Islam. It’s a time of fasting, introspection and prayer, beginning this year on April 2 and culminating on May 1. Ramadan and Lent overlap in 2022, something that hasn't happened in nearly 30 years due to Ramadan's reliance on the lunar calendar. The timing provides a unique opportunity to see some of their parallels.
“Ramadan and Lent operate in very different theological frameworks, but there is still deep resemblance between them,” said Pallavi Chandak, Mercy’s vice president of digital software engineering. “Both Muslims and Christians connect increased devotion to God with religious acts of purity and self-sacrificial service. And fasting is placed in a larger context of God’s gracious provision, putting an emphasis on charity and reflection during this time of fasting."
The concept of fasting is also present in Hinduism, Judaism and many other world religions. A few Mercy co-workers who share the Muslim faith — including Drs. Tariq Alam and Sadaf Sohrab, as well as Syeda Akhtar and Amina Karabegovic — recently shared their thoughts about the weeks ahead.
“Sharing about these traditions is a way to emphasize what we have in common – values of empathy, patience, perseverance and compassion, despite our religious differences,” said Dr. Tariq Alam, a Mercy neurologist. “We can revisit acceptance and tolerance when we focus on these shared practices.”
”[Ramadan is] a month that teaches us patience and empathy for others,” said Dr. Sadaf Sohrab, a Mercy pulmonologist. “When you go all day without food and water, it makes you realize what the less fortunate and the poor in society must be feeling on a regular basis.”
Ramadan is a time to be reminded to help the needy, to practice patience, perseverance, compassion and to be thankful, added Dr. Alam. “At times, we also share in the nightly fast with underprivileged people at our regional mosque to create a sense of brotherhood, caring and giving. We all get so busy in our lives with work and family and social commitments, that Ramadan gives us the opportunity to be reminded of many values and attributes that are important in our lives.”
It is important to remember that many people will be fasting during the day and praying long into the nights during the coming weeks. Please be sensitive to them if you have gatherings with food.
“Fasting is one of the pillars of our faith,” Dr. Alam said. “Each night during this month, we open, or end, the fast at dusk with family, and ideally, as we do on weekends, with friends and with the community as well. For me, personally, as I see patients all day and take hospital on-call, I must deliver the same level of care and compassion to our patients despite fasting with no food and water. This teaches you self-reliance and patience and to be thankful for all that we have and many times we take them for granted.”
“During Ramadan, Muslims wake up early and eat a light meal, known as suhoor,” said Syeda Akhtar, a Mercy applications development manager. “It is typically consumed about half an hour before dawn, in time for the morning prayer. After the sun fully sets at the end of each day, the person typically breaks his or her fast with water and dates, followed by prayers and then a meal called iftar.”
“My favorite ritual in Ramadan is waking up for suhoor,” said Amina Karabegovic, a Mercy social worker. “This is the time when Muslims wake up to pray Fajr and eat one last time before sunrise when the start of our fast begins. “Most of the time, families get together and cook breakfast type of meals.”
Fasting is not only about abstaining from food and drink. “Muslims must also refrain from smoking, taking oral medications and engaging in sexual activities, as well as gossip, fighting and lying,” added Akhtar. “Someone who cannot fast traditionally must feed one poor person for each day missed. Being hungry and thirsty throughout the day also allows for greater remembrance and compassion for the poor and the struggles that they face.”
Dr. Alam, a father of three, says he takes time during Ramadan to reinforce these concepts. “I often ask my children, ‘What happens to those who only have one meal a day every day or those who are less privileged than us? Many people go to bed at night with their stomachs only a quarter full, how can we help them and yet be thankful for what we have?’ These conversations create empathy and respect and tolerance. My son, who is 13 years old, wanted to fast the whole month of Ramadan this year ‘to see how much I can push myself,' he said. Even when his non-Muslim friends come over, they fast with him, out of respect and solidarity. When we teach our children the essence of these practices, they are lifelong lessons that apply in school, in pursuing excellence in their lives and future career as well as compassion for others.”
A common greeting at the start of the month is “Ramadan Mubarak” which translates to “Happy Ramadan.”
“The month culminates after 29 to 30 days with a celebration called Eid-ul-Fitr, or Festival of Breaking the Fast,” Akhtar said. “A common greeting on the day is ‘Eid Mubarak,’ which translates to 'Happy Eid' and is marked by celebrations where families and friends get together for Eid parties.”
“My favorite memory as a child of Ramadan is Eid,” Karabegovic added. “Spending time with family and celebrating the end of Ramadan was always special. When I was younger and lived in Chicago, a soccer stadium would be rented out for Eid prayer and it was beautiful seeing thousands of people celebrating.”