I’m not unfamiliar with the concept of Ramadan. When I was 15, I fasted for the first time simply because I wanted to go through it myself; I wanted to know what it meant, what it felt like. But this year, however, the beginning of Ramadan really meant something different to me, something special.
The past year has been full of rapid change and instability – both personally and globally for that matter – but after having finished my degree I finally decided to move to Greece in order to put myself to use. As you might have guessed, I didn’t go there for the jobs – instead the decision was motivated by the fact that I wanted to dedicate any extra time and energy I had to help the refugees in whatever manner that I could; many a little makes a mickle, as they say. I started teaching languages to refugee kids and after I while I began working in a community center here in Athens – a refugee midpoint and my home for the past 6 months. It was here I spent my first day of Ramadan in the company of a bunch of “my Syrian kids” as I call them by now.
We were sitting on the floor drawing, talking and one of the older kids was playing Arabic tunes from his cell phone. The latter had chosen to go bring a bottle of water, which upset some of the others and stirred up a conversation about the meaning of fasting. I usually try not to partake in their religious discussions, but this one in particular became a welcome aide-mémoire of exactly why I’m here; charity and kindness to others.
Many don’t realize that this is also what Ramadan is about at its essence; by feeling hunger, thirst and fatigue, we are reminded of the poor and those less fortunate than ourselves in order to strengthen our compassion and empathy and most importantly, to let it recall us to do acts of kindness. Yeah, it sounds simple and of course most of us are well aware that people around the world continuously suffer from both man-made as well as natural disasters, but the thing is, we never really get to feel the plight of the underprivileged.
By fasting and thereby just sharing a tiny moment of their hardship, the struggle of the Ramadan intends to make us more socially aware; aware of those around us who could need a helping hand. When the sun sets every night, one gets to experience certain gratitude by being able to eat once again, while at least half of the world’s population is still live under 2.5 dollars per day. There is no food to munch at any time of the day. By better understanding the suffering of others, you will understand that service to your fellow human beings cannot be ignored.
While an important aspect of Ramadan is the obligatory Zakat (charity) given by the end of the holy month often in the form of money, Islam contains the evenly important concept of charity called Sadaqah. Sadaqah is the term of giving voluntarily, but it is in a way the most comprehensive form of charity, as it doesn’t require you to back up your bags and go to Greece or even hand out of your hard-earned money. Instead, Sadaqah covers charitable actions or even sweet words and
a smile. It reminds us that charity is more than money. Charity is the love for your community, for those around you and is recognition of the fact that caring for those in your immediate surroundings can be a way to give charity and create a positive social attitude. It is this sort of thing that make us realize that not only do we have everything in common with the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims, but we have everything in common with all of world’s 7.5 billion inhabitants; we all feel hunger, thirst, love and loss.
“I won,” he shouted ecstatically. As I had drifted away into my own profound thoughts while I was playing a card game with one of the six-year old boys, he had apparently continued the game just fine without me. We had been making up our own rules, which basically meant that he would win every time either way.
He was now sitting there staring at the deck of cards. He looked at me, then back at the cards, and decided to hand me half of it. “It’s not fun if we’re not a team,” he said.