by Arsalan Iftikhar
Just one day before Ramadan began this year, I was in a taxi in midtown Manhattan making my way back to Penn Station in grueling rush hour traffic. At a red light, my taxi came to a stop outside a building with a large sign that read: “Your Ego is Not Your Amigo!” I chuckled to myself and proceeded to send a photo of that funny sign to my wife. She replied that this was the perfect sign for ushering in the spirit of Ramadan.
While most people focus on the fact that Ramadan means not eating food or drinking water during the daylight hours for nearly 30 consecutive days; the more difficult part is what is unveiled within us when we strip away these basest physiological needs. As Leonard Cohen once put it, “We human beings are always looking for things to do between meals.” During Ramadan, as our bodies begin to adjust to not eating or drinking all day long, we are left with sharper senses, heightened emotions and unconscious biases. In essence, the month of Ramadan is about facing our inner selves and being alone with our own tortured egos. As the famous Muslim poet Rumi once said:
“Fasting blinds the body in order to open the eyes of the soul.” - Rumi
In Arabic, the word Ramadan comes from the root words for scorching, burning, arid, intense heat and dryness. Just as gold and other precious elements are purified by virtue of the flame, Ramadan pushes our own endurance to form greater, more refined versions of ourselves physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
Ramadan is meant to be trial by fire; to put us through our paces to tame our ego before we must face God one day.
The discomfort of scorching heat and aridness signify that while striving for tolerance, patience and spirituality, we will at times be overcome by yearning, frustration, anger, despair, resentfulness, and impatience – all valid visceral emotions as we remove layers of creature comforts and familiar routine. Ramadan is meant to be trial by fire; to put us through our paces to tame our ego before we must face God one day.
This Ramadan I hope to focus on scorching my own ego by giving to those people who are less fortunate than the rest of us In one of my favorite hadith of the Prophet Muhammad- upon him be peace- he was once asked: "What actions are most excellent?” The Prophet (peace be upon him) responded: “To gladden the heart of human beings, to feed the hungry, to help the afflicted, to lighten the sorrow of the sorrowful, and to remove the sufferings of the wronged.”
As we continue to fast and give charity during the month of Ramadan, let us all use this time to also further humble ourselves by scorching away our egos.
Arsalan Iftikhar is founder of TheMuslimGuy.com and brand ambassador for Penny Appeal USA.