This Wednesday finds us at the midpoint of the month of Ramadhan, the Islamic month of fasting. You’ll find as many explanations for the importance and value of fasting as you will find Muslims, for Ramadhan is both an intensely personal and a community-oriented experience. One of the five “pillars” of Islam, the fast of Ramadhan involves abstaining from food, drink and sexual intercourse from dawn to sunset for a full lunar month. But the physical fast, while teaching self control, will power, and compassion for those in need, is only the tip of the iceberg, inculcating values and building toward positive action.
As much as the combination of reflection, transformation and positive change are hallmarks of action research, they are also the focus of the month of fasting. The beginning of the month of Ramadhan heralds the start of additional optional prayers that take place after the night prayer as well as during the deepest part of the night (called Taraweeh and Qiyaam respectively). These prayers focus on the recitation of the holy Qur’an, from beginning to end, and offers Muslims the opportunity to remember and reflect on the messages and teachings of the faith. The days of fasting, followed by the nights of prayer, strengthen the spirit and refocus the believer on a goal that exists on two planes: the physical, in which one learns to be in tune with one’s body, treating it respectfully and recognizing its limits while not being ruled by it, and the spiritual, in which one learns to be in tune with one’s faith, increasing one’s god-consciousness and striving to improve oneself. Each day involves a cycle of reflection and action that continues to build through the end of the month, with the last ten nights of Ramadhan considered among the most sacred of the year, prime for additional worship and even seclusion in the mosque for prayer and reflection (called Itikaaf).
Ramadhan ends with the preparation for Eid, a three-day celebration beginning on the first day of the new month, complete with parties, new outfits, gift-giving and desserts galore. However, there is one key requirement of believers that precedes the celebration of Eid: to give charity equating to a certain amount of food to those in need in your community, such that everyone can engage in the festivities without worrying about meals. Thus, after a lunar month of fasting, reflection, and refocusing, the first step to move into the rest of the year is community-focused positive action--and celebration. Which, as any action research knows, you can’t do without. This yearly cycle refocuses the believer, offering a lifelong approach to renewing one’s faith and moving towards action, and providing a fascinating faith-based mirror to the process of action research.