In his column in this Sunday's Post-Dispatch, Tony Messenger, a white American Christian, describes his delving into the experience of Ramadan. As many in this country now know, Ramadan - the ninth month of the lunar calendar - is the holiest time of the year for Muslims, the time in which they abstain from food and drink from dawn to dusk each day of the month.
It is the month in which the first verses of the Muslim scripture known as the Qur'an came as a revelation over fourteen-hundred years ago to a forty-year old Arab businessman while he was sitting alone in a cave in Saudi Arabia, meditating and contemplating the problems in his society. Over the remaining twenty-two years of his life, other verses came as revelations, and all combined constitute the Qur'an, which has since remained completely unchanged.
These revelations are considered by Muslims as the word of God, and they were revealed to the human being who Muslims regard as the messenger of God's word, Muhammad. The word Qur'an in Arabic means "the recitation," and Muhammad's role and purpose was to recite the word of God revealed to him to mankind.
Messenger describes in his column how for one day he "refrained from food or drink from 3:39 a.m. until 8:31 p.m.," and how that "one day of fasting in the Muslim tradition brought me closer to my Christian faith." Muslims would say that this was God's purpose in bringing Islam to the world - to bring human beings closer to consciousness of God. Ironically and sadly, with all the attention now paid to Islam in the context of ISIS and terrorism, no attention is given to its spiritual essence.
This Ramadan marks my thirty-sixth, having come into the faith of Islam - which in Arabic means "submission to God" - while a second year student at the University of Virginia School of Law. It was a turbulent time externally, with the Iranian revolution bringing Islam to America's attention, and internally a soul searching time, as I was contemplating what was my true purpose in becoming a lawyer. Was it to pursue the path of being an attorney with a corporate law firm, which I felt I and my classmates were being programmed for, I wondered. Or was it, I asked myself, to use the education and credential for the benefit of my people.
I would never have expected that during this time, in of all places, Charlottesville, Virginia - the home of Thomas Jefferson - that I would encounter three individuals - an undergraduate student, a UVA professor, and an attorney - who would guide me to a profound closeness to God, the same God I had worshiped and prayed to as a Christian, and who in Arabic is called "Allah."
From the Muslim student I learned the principle and practice of the five daily prayers, giving God a constant and continuous presence in my life; from the Muslim attorney I learned the excellence and fearlessness the faith demands in our everyday work; and from the Muslim professor I received these words: "The first duty of a Muslim lawyer is to seek justice for the oppressed."
Messenger wrote of his one day Ramadan experience that, "It was a reminder of how distracted I often get, allowing other priorities to get between me and the practice of my faith." Ramadan, with the test it puts the human being through, is a reminder to Muslims, and to those with the open mindedness of Tony Messenger, of the importance of the remembrance of God.
Eric E. Vickers