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Intermittent fasting is hailed by many as the new ‘cool' fad diet of this decade. Experts ranging from medical physicians to health nutritionists have described at length the health, mental, social, and financial benefits that come with this type of lifestyle. But there is another source that made intermittent fasting cool before anyone else.
Islam and its Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) 1,400 years ago taught its followers to partake in the habit of fasting. Today, 1.8 billion Muslims throughout the world have been meticulously observing this practice yearly during the month of Ramadan. Fasting from sunrise to sunset, which in some places can be 17 to 18 hours, is not for the faint of heart. However, this feat is even more superhuman if you are a Muslim health care provider in today's pandemic-ridden world. Muslim physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists, emergency staff, first responders, and all types of essential workers have been fasting for several long hours a day while standing on their feet helping and saving the lives of their fellow citizens.
Nevertheless, Ramadan imbibes a culture of empathy, support, and love for mankind that makes those extraordinary sacrifices well worth it. As Ramadan now comes to a close, the world's Muslim population will observe the conclusion of this blessed month through the celebration of Eid-ul-Fitr - or the 'Feast of Breaking the Fast” - on May 24. Usually, Eid is a moment of joyous congregational prayers, delicious food, mouthwatering desserts, gleaming decorations, and thoughtful gifts. This time, however, things are going to be much different.
The scars of losing loved ones to COVID-19 persist deep within the soul; the misfortune of not being able to celebrate the end of the holiest month in Islam aches the already grieving heart. Family and friends separated by physical and political borders brings with it another layer of sorrow. As an Ahmadi Muslim, while I am disappointed that I cannot celebrate Eid in-person due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the teachings of Islam instill within me the importance of obeying all laws and safety measures for the greater good. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community worldwide was one of the first religious groups to indefinitely discontinue the mandatory Friday prayers in lieu of scientific and governmental recommendations. Religion in general and Islam in particular, above all else, is the means to a safe and secure life for oneself and one's fellow beings. Islam has heavily prioritized Haquq-ul-Ibad (rights of men) over Haquq-ul-Allah (rights of God). Qur'an emphasizes this, 'And worship Allah and associate naught with Him, and show kindness to parents, and to kindred, and orphans, and the needy, and to the neighbor that is a kinsman and the neighbor that is a stranger, and the companion by your side, and the wayfarer, and those whom your right hands possess. Surely, Allah loves not the proud and the boastful.” [Chapter 4, Ayah 37]
Even more so during periods of trial and tribulation, Islam encourages Muslims to look after the less fortunate on Eid through charity and community service. The blessed congregational prayer I mentioned earlier has a condition attached to it: Muslims are expected to make a donation in the name of those impoverished before they are to offer the prayer. This donation is called fitrana. The literal definition of fitrana is ‘the state of purity and innocence.' The word Eid-ul-Fitr itself has been derived from this Arabic root. On the blessings of charity, the Holy Qur'an on the blessings of charity states: 'As to the men that give alms, and the women that give alms, and those who lend to God a goodly loan - it will be increased manifold for them, and theirs also will be an honorable reward.” [Chapter 57, Ayah 19].
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community spearheads the Humanity First organization, which is one of the premier nonprofit philanthropies in the world. Humanity First initiated the Make-A-Mask campaign where men, women, and children of all ages spent their time, energy, and resources to create hundreds of thousands of masks and distributed them within their respective communities throughout the globe.
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) himself was the epitome of human sacrifice and charity. He lived and breathed everything mentioned in this piece. Regarding acts of charity, he stated, 'Every joint of a person must perform a charity each day that the sun rises: to judge justly between two people is a charity. To help a man with his mount, lifting him onto it or hoisting up his belongings onto it, is a charity. And the good word is a charity. And every step that you take toward the prayer is a charity and removing a harmful object from the road is a charity” (Bukhari).
This practical guidance is something we can all benefit from during these troublesome times, whether you are celebrating Eid or not. May God protect us and all those on the front lines, fighting the fight of their lives every day.
Irtaza Khalid is a senior medical student and the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine and a member of the Muslim Writers Guild of America.