Friday, October 14, 2005

Gary Edwards Talks Up Ramadan

(written on the eve of Ramadan ...)

Gary Edwards used to be a Southern Baptist. He grew up on a farm in the deep south of the United States. He then went to university where he discovered an English translation of the Qur’an. Life just hasn’t been the same for Gary since.

He went to Saudi Arabia to study Arabic. He later arrived in Istanbul and spent 10 years learning from a scholar and sufi named Mahmud Effendi. Gary then decided to marry and sort-of change his name. To most Muslims, he is known as Shaykh Naeem Abdul Wali.

Tonight is the final night of Gary’s visit to Australia. He flies out tomorrow insh’Allah (i.e. God-willing) to Arizona and back to the small Muslim community of Tuscon (I hope I spelt it right). It has been an eventful visit which has included a weekend “Deen-intensive” and talks at various gatherings and mosques.

I hope to be meeting up with Gary tonight. I might see if he has time to contribute to this blog every now and then. But in the meantime, I will remind myself and the rest of us what Gary said about Ramadan the other night at a gathering in Wentworthville.

Each Friday night, around 80 young couples and families gather at Wentworthville in Western Sydney for a “suhbat” (lesson and company) with Dr Mohsin Labban. Dr Labban is a retired academic and economist who has worked across the world teaching and consulting. Unlike most retirees, Dr Labban has not quite retired. He continues to teach and research, though his focus is on more spiritual topics.

When a visiting speaker arrives, Dr Labban regularly allows the speaker access to his audience. Gary Edwards was no exception.

One of Sydney’s most active volunteers and activists decided she wanted to ask a question. She somehow managed to get the attention of the man with the microphone and asked perhaps the most relevant question of the night.

“Every year Ramadan comes and goes. I feel like it slips through my fingers, and I haven’t taken full advantage of it. What would you suggest I do this Ramadan to get a greater amount of spiritual benefit?”

Shaykh Gary thought for a short while and then answered:

“I suggest you fast.”

We were all stunned by this statement of the obvious. Of course we are going to fast during Ramadan.

(Well, at least those of us in good health will be fasting. Others have health commitments which force them to take medication and make it impossible to fast.)

Shaykh Gary went onto explain what he meant. This is what I remember him saying in a few nutshells:

a. Fasting isn’t just about not eating and drinking. It isn’t just about starving yourself.
b. Fasting also isn’t just about refraining from sex either.
c. Fasting is also a state of mind. You take one month out during the year of 12 months to focus on your soul. That means you cut off from your physical appetites for part of the time.
d. There are plenty of people who fast but gain nothing except hunger and thirst and increased sexual tension.
e. The best way to prepare for the month is to prepare from now. Try fasting a few days now. Try doing extra prayers and extra remembrance of God. We are fortunate to have the benefit of being able to recite God’s Names. If we deprive ourselves of the benefit of this facility, we only have ourselves to blame.

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

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