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Originally published Monday, July 8, 2013 at 4:18 PM

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Ramadan fasting: It’s about discipline, reflection, humanity

A month of daytime hunger and thirst is arduous, but this intense transformative experience can bring a greater sense of appreciation, compassion and community.

Special to The Seattle Times

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Faith & Values

Few experiences can produce such an intense spiritual and social impact on a Muslim as fasting during the month of Ramadan.

Refraining from food, drink, sex, smoking and anger from sunrise to sunset are some of the basic elements of this fast, but at its core is achieving a deeper spiritual relationship with our creator.

The word monthis derived from the word moon and essentially measures a lunar cycle. Islam’s lunar calendar shifts Ramadan 10 days each year, and with that shift, Muslims this year will experience longer days of fasting.

For local Muslims, Ramadan is scheduled to begin Tuesday, bringing fasts of 18 hours a day for 30 days. The pains of hunger and thirst are arduous, but the transformative experience is unmatched.

For me, Ramadan is a spiritual and moral calling to re-examine my life’s mission: to be a more thoughtful human being through reflection and introspection, and to increase my love for the creator.

I love Ramadan perhaps because of its restraints and discipline — practices that, considering the state of the world today, seem to be in short supply.

The discipline of doing without raises my level of appreciation, helping me become more thankful for our countless blessings and the many things we do have, while also reaffirming my commitment to humanity.

Experiencing hunger can enlighten us about why and what we eat.

We live in a country where every kind of food is available, yet hunger and food uncertainty remain hard realities in America, resulting for many in the health contradiction of hunger and obesity — serious issues that deserve more attention.

Food is a blessing, and during Ramadan Muslims tend to eat more nutritious foods in smaller quantities — something we should be doing throughout the year because it’s not how much you eat, but what you eat.

In Ramadan, there is no room for anger, egos, arrogance, rash talk or backbiting. Keeping control of my emotions is mandatory while fasting. Not reacting to things that I dislike pleases God.

Being kind, polite and greeting everyone with a sweet smile becomes an effective tool. It is like a tuneup for humanity, when kindness and compassion touch everyone around you at home, the office and in society.

Because we live in a diverse society, Ramadan is a perfect time for Muslims to advance their relationships with neighbors and community, helping to improve the understanding of the true Islamic character in a free and open society.

Fasting also provides a connection with other faiths and religious communities. As Lent is for Christians and Yom Kippur for Jews, fasting is a sacred bridge builder for dialogue and understanding.

At the end of the day, Ramadan can benefit Muslims and the society we live in. Despite the physical toll of fasting, our hearts and spirits can find comfort in completing a moral exercise that pleases God and benefits humanity.

Aziz Junejo is host of “Focus on Islam,” a weekly cable-television show, and a frequent speaker on Islam. Readers may send feedback to faithcolumns@seattletimes.com

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