The Muslim month of fasting, Ramadan, is over. For me, as for other Muslims, it has been challenging, and beautiful. But the purpose of the month—retreat—is not meant to last forever. It is meant to be inspiration for action.
Perhaps the most well-known story in Islam is Muhammad’s pilgrimage to a cave on Mt. Hira in the year 610 C.E. It was there, during a period of intense prayer, that Muhammad was gripped three times by the Angel Gabriel and, just before he was totally overwhelmed by fear, found a message from God emerging from his lips. It was the first verse of a revelation that would continue, on and off, for 23 years, and that would ultimately be compiled into the Holy Quran.
Ramadan is the month that Prophet Muhammad went on retreat. It is the month that Muslims commemorate the revelation of the Quran by following the practice of the Prophet during his retreat. We fast, pray, and give alms.
I remember hearing this story when I was young, and one point in particular was always impressed upon me: Muhammad was a regular on that mountain. He made an annual pilgrimage to the cave of Mt. Hira, where he would fast, pray, and give alms to the poor. In other words, Muhammad was selected by God to be a prophet precisely because he removed himself from the world to focus on worship.
That felt difficult for me. Ever since I can remember, I have wanted nothing more than to know and love the world, in all its jazz and war. And while I felt a longing for God throughout my adolescence, if connecting to the divine meant removing myself from real life, I wasn’t quite ready to make that commitment. I chose the world.