Today marks the beginning of Ramadan, the holiest month on the Muslim calendar. Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam, which are considered the foundation of Muslim life.
As a Spiritual Care Provider it has been my privilege to cultivate interest and appreciation for religious traditions different from my own. We are a wonderfully diverse community here at MGH, and we can all benefit from being open to learning about our fellow community members. The more we understand about what gives our colleagues or patients a sense of deep meaning or purpose, the better care we are able to offer.
I am no expert, but knowing that this important time was approaching I sought new learning from some wonderful interfaith educators. For those of you who are curious, here is some of what I learned. Many people already know that during Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset (and that includes all liquids, even water). There is a deeper meaning at work there, about showing solidarity with people who don’t have enough to eat. But Ramadan is about much more than fasting- it’s a time of overall spiritual purification and Quranic study, a time of turning away from bad habits and toward Allah. It’s about taking on extra practices in order to renew one’s deepest devotion.
I admire the dedication and rigour it must take to live out this kind of spiritual discipline. There is something beautiful and awe-inspiring about a devotion so deep that believers are willing to challenge their most basic needs to gain a higher focus. I can see how many non-Muslims in our culture might, at first glance, see the deprivation of fasting, and miss seeing the greater spiritual goal that makes fasting worthwhile. From my own spiritual practice, I know that there are disciplines that bring great value and richness to my life, but often look confusing to outsiders. That’s what dialogue is for.
Reflecting on the leadup to Ramadan was a humbling experience for me. I realize that one of the greatest opportunities of a life working in healthcare is the chance to listen. Let’s continually renew our dedication to stop and ask- what is the source of meaning in this person’s life? Community and care are strengthened when we listen attentively and with openness.