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An Indian Muslim man stands in front of the Jama Masjid as he and other worshippers leave following the breaking of the fast and prayers on the first night of Ramadan in New Delhi, India, Saturday, July 21, 2012. Muslims throughout the world are marking the month of Ramadan, the holiest month in Islamic calendar.
I love the summer time. It is so much better than the winter, especially in my home town of Chicago. In fact, I start looking forward to the summer on December 21, because the days start to get longer after that day, and it is the first harbinger of the coming warm season.
I love the long days. Even if I have a long day at work, I can come home and still have many hours of daylight to enjoy, perhaps take a walk with my family, or just watch my kids play in the extended day. And even after the sun sets, it is still light enough close to 10 p.m. to go out and get ice cream, a favorite pastime of our family. And I love the fact that I don’t both go to work and come home from work in the dark in the summer.
I love the warm weather. No, I may not like the extreme heat and humidity (like we had the past few weeks). Still, I don’t have to wear five layers of clothes and still freeze to death, which is a very common experience with winter in Chicago. I don’t have to clear my driveway of snow, early in the morning in the freezing cold. I don’t have to drive in the snow, and slush, and salt, and muck, and ice, and cold. I love to see the green grass, the leaves on the trees, and all the flowers and shrubs that bloom everywhere around me.
And the summer means I can play golf again. Indeed, I play golf quite badly, but still, with the long days and warm weather, I am able to get my golf fix very early in the morning (6 a.m.) and come home before my children wake up. Moreover, the hospital golf outings also occur in the summer, which is an added bonus of free golf on courses that I would normally never play. Furthermore, if the Lord blesses us with means, we can take vacations during the summer.
Yup, I absolutely love the summer: it is my absolute favorite time of year. And that love will remain in place…until July 20.
After July 20, I will absolutely despise the summer. I will hate the hot weather, with the stifling humidity and searing sunshine that burns both my bald head and my parched mouth. I will abhor the distressingly long day, with the sun not setting until almost 8:30 p.m. And I will equally abhor the horrifically short night, with the sun rising again only nine hours later. Golf? It will be terrible after July 20, with the many hours baking in the sun while chasing my golf ball all over the course: in the trees, the sand bunkers, the tall grass, and (many times) the water hazards.
This is because Ramadan starts on July 20 this year. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims – including, sadly, me – must forgo food and drink from dawn until dusk, which is about 4 a.m. until 8:30 p.m., for 30 days. It is one of the essential religious practices of Islam. Thus, the very things that make me absolutely love the summer – when I can eat and drink during the day – will make me hate the summer literally overnight. And I will have this very same love-hate relationship with the summer for the next 10 years or so, when Ramadan will occur during the summer months in the Northern Hemisphere.
Yet, that is the purpose of Ramadan: to change the routine in order to remind the believer of God and the ultimate purpose of life. Of course, if fasting during the long (long, long, long) summer days presents a medical hardship for someone, then Islam demands that he or she not fast and pay charity instead. Yet, if we are able to fast then, as the Koran says, “it is better for you if you fast.”
That is because, as we endure the long, long, long days of summer fasting, we come to appreciate the blessing that is food and drink, a blessing which we frequently take for granted. As we endure the long, long, long days of summer fasting, our hunger and thirst motivates us to help the poor and less fortunate, who forgo food and drink many times out of necessity and not choice. As we endure the long, long, long days of summer fasting, we recharge our spirituality and focus, reorienting our vision heavenward when everyday life tends to orient our vision earthward.
Yes, it is going to be hard to fast in July and August. Yes, I am going to be hungry and thirsty for many, many hours during the day. No, I am not looking forward to a summer Ramadan for the next 10 years. Yet, that dread at having to fast in the summer is the very reason I need to fast the month of Ramadan: to strengthen my spirituality and my attachment to worldly life. And I pray that – with the end of Ramadan and the joy of daytime eating and drinking it brings – I am a better Muslim, better father, better husband, and better son of the country I love so very much.
Hesham Hassaballa, a pulmonary/critical care physician in Chicago, is author of “Noble Brother: The Story of the Last Prophet in Poetry” and co-author of “The Beliefnet Guide to Islam.” Follow him on Twitter @GodFaithPen