To some, the idea of abstaining from food, water, smoking and sexual activity from dawn to dusk for one month may seem as an act of deprivation, even suffering to the human body. To many faithful Muslims around the world however, fasting during Ramadan is about tasting the hardship endured by the poor and hungry, and carrying out charity.
Ziyad Serhan, President of the Sydney University Muslim Students’ Association (SUMSA) shared some of his thoughts and reflections with Honi Soit.
“Being in Australia, where we have one of the highest standards of living in the world, it’s easy to feel detached from the realities faced by our less fortunate brothers and sisters elsewhere,” he said. “Fasting makes you think about and care for them.”
The spiritually-strengthening quality of fasting should also be acknowledged in Ziyad’s opinion. “Food is such an essential source of nourishment. To fast is to take control of your body and carry out self-discipline.”
According to the hadith, a collection of traditions containing sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, Ramadan is a month of blessing and good deeds. One establishment which has done its part to support fasting students for over eight years now is Uni Brothers. About 10 to 15 students come to the shop daily during Ramadan for a free iftar meal.
Owner Nuri Balabanel, with his muscular build and slickly combed dark hair is an ostensibly intimidating figure. However, he is more than modest about the contributions of his business to the University’s Islamic student community.
“We would help more students but at the end of the day, it’s difficult – we’re still a business,” said Nuri.
Some come back to reciprocate the good deed. “There was this one time when this guy came back with at least $25 worth of Lebanese sweets,” he said.
Though Nuri acknowledged the kind gesture, he stressed the hardworking folk at Uni Brothers “really don’t expect anything in return”.
SUMSA held its annual Ramadan iftar last week, where Ziyad handed over a mock cheque to the ‘50 cent Campaign: Feed a Fasting Person’ project by the Global Islamic Mission, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to building orphanages, schools, hospitals, and mosques. To date, the society has received a grand total of $6051, mostly from anonymous donors – a long way from the initial goal set at $1000.
Ziyad stresses that Islam puts emphasis on giving sincerely without boasting. “There’s a Prophetic tradition that says those who give with their right hand and conceal it from their left is the best way of giving.”
In a society with a deeply consumerist culture, food and other indulgences are always in abundance. The perpetual temptation to give in to our wants and desires is one that is near impossible to resist. As the new moon appeared on August 7, 30 days after it first appeared, we reflected upon the lessons we can take from Ramadan – compassion, thanksgiving generosity and a will to better ourselves.