Nearing the end of the first week of Ramadhan. Back in Birmingham with the parents for iftar, after a back and forth kind of week- in more ways than one. Having laid the table, got the dates out and whilst Dad does the fiyayzi frying, I’m just thinking back over the last week and how fast these precious days are already melting away.

Before Ramadhan begins each year, especially in these summer months there’s always anticipation about how much of a struggle the fasts will be during the long sunlight hours. It’s amazing how your body and mind simply adjusts, as if by magic. Although it’s not magic, it’s faith.

Ramadhan is automatically associated with fasting- which is a large part of this month. But it goes far beyond just abstaining from food and drink. Something I’m constantly trying to prioritise in my mind.

An ample reminder of this was iftar earlier on in the week with the Ramadan Tent Project. A community based initiative, inviting Muslims and non-Muslims alike to join together, open fast, pray and eat.

Tariq Ramadan was in attendance and gave an inspiring speech on the importance of the month of Ramadhan. I had never heard him speak before and was intrigued to see how he would address the diverse audience; Muslims observing Ramadhan and non-Muslims clearly interested in learning about Ramadhan or maybe just curious. Often speakers in similar contexts, ‘pitch too high’ with the religious speak.

Tariq Ramadan however was powerful and accessible to all. Everything that he said had a human element. It was relevant, relatable and real.

He talked about the meaning of life being revealed in Ramadhan through the Qur’an. And that our lives should mirror the Qur’an, the book of meaning- if our lives were to have meaning.

And what is that meaning?

For our lives to have meaning, we must be fulfilling a purpose to others.
We need to serve humanity. The best of us are those that serve humanity. Not just Muslims.

Islam is about shared universal values. The question we must ask ourselves is what is our added value?

Our value comes through our responsibility to spread love and peace. He talked about how as Muslims, we are supposed to be agents of peace, solidarity and justice.

Our added value comes from being people of principle and courage. It is not enough to just be ‘nice.’ There is an additional responsibility to stand up in the face of oppression. We are Paris but we are also Beirut, Baghdad and all the other places of the oppressed. This is the voice of Ramadhan. It is about standing up for dignity. When people begin to lose courage and truth – we must have courage and we must speak the truth.

In his speech he honoured the great
Muhammad Ali using him as an example of exactly this. His refusal to fight in Vietnam because it was against his principles. He was courageous, he had principles and he paid the price for both. But he did not care about the consequences, because he was doing what was right. Such was his conviction.

He went on to speak about the importance of compassion as Muslims. To be compassionate to yourself. To not be too hard on yourself. To be honest about who you are, including the shortcomings and the mistakes but to remember there is always a way back for a person of sincerity. If you go to God walking, He will come to you running.

But Islam says the compassion must extend to everyone. The question we must ask ourselves is ‘what is our utility?’ It is to serve others. Our supplications ought not be selfish, and must be made for all.

There was a group of non-Muslims sitting opposite me. After the speech I overheard a young guy say “He hardly talked about God, it’s all about being a good person.”

Such was the power of this short speech. Or of Ramadhan.

It was all the more powerful given the current context of rampant islamophobia and serious misunderstandings about Islam serving only to create division and hatred.

So yes, Ramadhan is about fasting. But above and beyond that, it is about reflection, readjusting perspective and an opportunity to redefine who you are.

To try and be that good person.