NYU Spiritual Life Center Ramadan Workshop Update

Last Wednesday night I went back to the Spiritual Life Center at NYU.  My class at City College was given the choice to vote between whether they’d rather have class at CCNY or go back to the Ramadan Workshop and they chose the workshop.  That was good, because even if they hadn’t, I’d have skipped class to go back.  It’s one thing to read about Islam and Muslims in a book or see it in a documentary; it’s quite another to get that first-hand experience in actual religious workshops that discuss the details of the faith and how people are actually practicing it.  It’s also nice to socialize with and meet people who practice Islam.  It really helps to put things in perspective, in the sense that Islam is not a monolithic evil.

While I was there I was pleasantly surprised to see a former classmate from an English class I took last Fall semester.  She was sitting on the other side of the room (the room basically stays divided by gender in Islam, forcing people to focus on the material and God rather than each other), so we chatted by Facebook messenger for a few moments before paying attention to the lecture.  She told me that the speaker’s name from the previous week is Khalid, so I went back and edited that post.  I’m pretty bad with names.

She also told me the guy has videos up on YouTube so I did a search and found out the NYU Islamic Center has its own YouTube channel.  There are two videos from the workshop up already: the first and second.  The one from this week hasn’t been uploaded yet.  I’m not sure if it will, since it wasn’t Khalid giving the lecture.  If you were curious, you can watch the video below to see some of what I sat through during the first week.  The video could be a bit better.  The information borders cover too much of the viewing area and never fade away, but the important part is what Khalid is saying.

This last week’s lecture was by a guest speaker.  Again, I don’t remember his name.  He studied Islamic disciplines in South Africa, if I remember right.  He spent six years being educated in Islamic schools and he’s now here in New York to begin his undergraduate education in a Western traditional college.  His lecture focused on the legal aspects of fasting during Ramadan.  The guy has a bit of a sense of humor and I was surprised and happy to see that he was very candid with the topic in the interests of clarity of information.

Issues like menstruation and avoiding any activity that might “get the juices flowing” were addressed.  It wasn’t something I expected to hear discussed, but then again, what was I expecting?  I suppose topics like that probably wouldn’t come up during a conservative Christian sermon.  I wonder if that means Islam has a healthier conception of sex and the body?  I’ll have to think about that more.  The topics weren’t all racy.  Things like medication and health issues were also covered, including when fasting begins and ends and when you’re allowed to eat.

Islam is more of a rule-oriented religion, where you have to follow strict and clear guidelines if you want your act of worship to be valid and effective.  On first inspection it seems overly complicated, but in a way, it seems very clear and the complications are only there to prevent people who are trying to find loopholes from cheating.  One example of that is having to be told that chewing gum invalidates fasting, since you swallow the flavor of the gum, even involuntarily.

So, essentially what it boils down to is this:  When it’s Ramadan, you eat when the sun is down.  When it’s fajr (first prayer of the day at dawn) it’s too late to eat.  It’s too late to drink.  You also don’t smoke, have sexual relations, masturbate, put anything into your mouth or another orifice that would cause your body to receive nourishment for the duration of the day.  You attempt to avoid doing anything that would cause sexual arousal and stay away from immoral things.  You try to clean up your act and don’t intentionally use foul language or do foul things.  When night time comes and you do the sunset prayer, maghrib, you can eat, drink, smoke (if that’s your thing) and engage in sexual relations again.  There are exceptions, but I won’t go into all of the details here.

The point of Ramadan is to remind you to be humble by creating empathy with those who do without because they have nothing, rather than voluntarily, people who fast all the time because they’re too poor to eat.  It’s a time to refocus your mind on God, drop bad habits, create new, good ones, by studying scriptures and praying more.  Ramadan is like a once-a-year opportunity to try to reinvent yourself into what you should be (to be a good Muslim) and to move further away from where you were before you began your fast.  As Khalid put it the previous week, you should never meet two Ramadans with the same perspective.  You should always grow.  Not that I imagine he would say personal growth is restricted to Ramadan.

Here’s a real short video that gives a real good overview of Ramadan from a Turkish family’s perspective:

I’m looking forward to attending the workshop again this coming week.  It’s really great, and if you didn’t know, open to anyone with a picture ID.  You don’t have to be an NYU student.

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