Saturday, November 24, 2001
month of Ramadan poses both a challenge and an
opportunity for today's Muslims
It's Ramadan, but
Rehana Begg, a devout Muslim, isn't fasting.
Instead, she and
her husband, Medhi Fedai-Nazari, are getting acquainted with
their firstborn, daughter Nina Aziza, who surprised them by
arriving Nov. 3, instead of the predicted Nov. 18 to coincide
The ninth month
of the Muslim lunar calendar, Ramadan is one of the five pillars
of Islam and revered as a month of piety and repentance in which
the Koran was revealed to the Prophet Mohammad. This year, it
began Nov.16 and is a time when able-bodied Muslims are required
to abstain from food and drink from dawn to dusk for 28 or 29
currently on leave from her job as assistant editor at
Homemaker's magazine, is exempt from fasting because she's
breast-feeding her daughter. She appreciates that pregnant
women, the elderly and sick, nursing mothers, travellers and
young children are excused from keeping the Ramadan fast, but
she still feels odd about it.
my family fasts and it seems really strange to be the only one
left out" says Begg, who comes from an observant Muslim
family. "I've fasted most of my adult life and find that
Ramadan in Canada is very different from back home in Cape Town
lived under apartheid, our home was in a predominantly Muslim
enclave so we could hear the call to prayers five times a day.
There was a sense of community, sharing and support."
While studying at
York University, Begg found herself isolated and constantly
giving explanations "about why I don't look like a Muslim
or dress like one. ... But living in Canada has strengthened my
faith and allowed me to follow Islam with a conscious effort.
'Living in Canada
has allowed me to follow Islam with a conscious effort'
"Islam is a
practical religion" she continues. "I respect the fact
that although I'm exempt from fasting, I'm going to donate an
amount of money equivalent to three meals a day for one fasting
person who is needy- probably back home."
At the invitation
of Canadian soldiers they met in England, a group stopped in
Canada on their return to Hong Kong.
subjects, a number of them, including Singh, decided to stay and
made their home in British Columbia.
is being celebrated all over Canada this year. In the Greater
Toronto Area, the Centennial Foundation hosts a gala dinner at
the Lionhead Golf Club next Saturday.
For T. Sher
Singh, a Guelph lawyer and avid student of Sikhism, the
centennial celebrations "will be a start of understanding
our roots while allowing us to celebrate both cultures, East and
Singh, one of the
key persons behind the Centennial Foundation and a Toronto Star
columnist, says his involvement is about heritage.
Begg says that
this year Ramadan has a different dynamic for her because so
much has changed- "both personally and on a global
She was a
participant at the World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) in
South Africa earlier this year and found it an enlightening
experience. "I was impressed when I went to a mosque in
Claremont, Cape Town, and the sermon called for inclusiveness of
women and acknowledgment of their contributions to the cause of
"For me it
was a combination of going back home to realize how much I've
grown and how much this (Canada) is home even though the
atmosphere has changed."
from WCAR on Sept. 8, and reflects on the events of Sept. 11.
"People think I must be going through a hard time just
because I'm Muslim ... but this is a global tragedy.
Islam and Afghanistan are news, whereas in my profession, we've
been aware of the Afghan women's crisis for more than a year.
most part, Sept. 11 has created great awareness of Islam. We're
involved in discussion and debate at various levels, which is
good and leads to reflection. Ramadan is a great time for
reflection, even if one is not fasting."
Fasting in the
month of Ramadan takes place on many levels. There is the
physical abstinence from food and drink, smoking and sexual
relations so believers can be reminded of those who have
On a spiritual
level, it means cleansing of the soul through repentance,
reflection, self control and awareness of God's blessings.
It's a time for
heightened attention to the rules of right conduct. The Qur'an
says: "Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed
for those before you, so that you may be pious."
Iranian-born husband, Fedai-Nazari, fasts despite being a heavy
smoker. "It's hard but Ramadan teaches us self control and
this a good time to practise that," he explains.
Ramadan is extra special for Fedai-Nazari, due to the arrival of
his first child. "I always wanted a girl and now Nina is
here," he says.
mother is visiting us from Iran for the first time and she will
be making some special Ramadan treats for us."
Ramadan is also
considered as a month of mercy and forgiveness. It's believed
that the gates of heaven are open throughout Ramadan, so it's
thought of as a time for Muslims to purify their hearts and
reinforce their commitment to Allah.
forbidden in this month, along with other evils that Prophet
Mohammad is quoted to have said would break the intent of the
fasting person: lying, slander, ungodly oaths, passion and
back-biting. So Ramadan calls for devout spiritual commitment.
feels more spiritually connected this Ramadan than he has
before. The 22-year-old commerce graduate from University of
Toronto has fasted the whole month since he was 15, but finds it
different this year.
"I feel more
of a connection with God- there's so much to pray for. The
people in Afghanistan who are affected by war and are dying,
especially orphans and those who have no food. My heart goes out
to those who are fasting during these traumatic times. "
originally from Pakistan but lived in Saudi Arabia until his
family came to Canada seven years ago, and he feels that Islam
has been cast in a new light.
absorbed a lot of things I didn't know before and it's been an
enlightening process even from the stand point of Western media-
Islam is not a mystery anymore.
'I feel more of a
connection with God- there's so much to pray for'
"I used to
read only sports but now my whole family watches the news and
discusses the faith- we don't always agree but there is much
reflection. This is what fasting is about."
Since Ramadan is
a time for extra reflection and prayers, Mirza says he prays
that those who are ignorant will find the light. When he finds
time during Ramadan, he goes to the mosque with his father and
older brother to perform extra congregational prayers in which
the Qur'an is recited for the entire month.
a time for charity and our charity can be helping people, taking
time to explain our faith or even a kind word," he says.
not just about abstaining from food and drink for the whole
day" in Canada becomes a short one starting at about 5: 30
a.m. for the pre-dawn meal called sehri and ending at sunset for
a meal called iftar. Mirza's mother, Shubeena, gets up before
dawn to make special bread and kebabs for her family and then
cooks their favourite dishes for the evening meal.
"There is a
strong social component to Ramadan, which makes it a time to
fast and feast together," Mirza says. "This involves
special meals- those which quench the thirst and are filling,
feels rather sad and reflective this Ramadan. The 50-year-old
banker and father of two from Guyana usually looks forward to
Ramadan, but this year he wonders: "If our Prophet Muhammad
were to return to earth during this holy and pious month, I
wonder if he would recognize Islam as it pertains today to
education, tolerance of women's rights?"
his frustrations about the current status of Muslims. "The
first revelation to the Prophet from God said, "Read in the
name of thy Lord"- yet most of us continue to ignore this
and place our trust and hope in the knowledge that originates
from the pulpit ... without questioning or challenging it."
Kayum says that
the life of the Prophet was a remarkable model of tolerance,
which isn't reflected in the practice of many Muslims today.
Identifying himself as "someone who always tries to find
opportunities in the midst of adversity," Kayum finds a
silver lining in today's dark clouds.
refreshing to see a phenomenal interest in Islam.... We have an
opportunity to both defend and propagate Islam ... to expose
fanaticism and be motivated to research and enhance our own
knowledge of the faith.
a perfect time for this reflection."
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