Traveling During Ramadan : Why Not ?

Travel is always an eye opener, discovering another land, a people, their customs, their culture, even their diet; the experience can often be life changing.

To then combine travel with Ramadan, the month of fasting, the month of abstention, the month of – as we are advised – to seek nearness to God, makes for a doubly interesting prerogative.

I have often wondered whether I should travel during the month. Surely, for example, my focus should be on my prayers and my relationship with God? Should I not adjust my schedule enabling me to be freer?

Muslims at the two sides of the spectrum

This year, I discovered something new. Many of my professional female Muslim friends– single and married – have openly stated that they are taking the contraceptive pill for the sole purpose of ensuring that they can fast throughout the whole month of Ramadan without any difficulty; much in the same way as they would do if they opted to perform pilgrimage. While on the one hand I can understand the desire not to miss any fasts, this is after all a blessed month, I find myself in an ethical quandary.

If God has included provision in the Quran for certain matters, such as not needing to fast when menstruating, or, as in my case, not needing to fast when traveling, then should one take medication to ensure one can fast throughout? And should one adjust their schedule to ensure that one’s fasts are completed within Ramadan?

Another discussion is currently taking place across social media. It centers on the duration of the fast. One person on Twitter for example writes, “I know it’s bad for u to lie down right after u eat but I am so full that I can’t keep myself up. That’s a lot of weight.”

A quick scan shows men and women struggling through the day on account of the length of fasts: headaches, vomiting, falling ill, while spending their nights in fests of gluttony, trying to eat and drink as much as possible in as little time as possible. And in the case of another person on twitter, complaining about his inability to attend taraweeh prayers in the mosque as he is too tired, too full and has another day of work tomorrow.- Is this really the Quranic and prophetic vision of fasting and Ramadan?

It is interesting to note that scholars have made a distinction between ‘normal’ hours of fasting vs ‘abnormal’ hours of fasting. An Azhari scholar in recent days opined that a 12 hour fast was more than sufficient. The idea of reducing hours of fasting is nothing new. Even Imam Ghazali opined that a fast should not be longer than 16 hours, as that the maximum a person should sleep at night is a third of the day i.e. 8 hours. The former Grand Mufti of Egypt, Muhammad Abduh also shared similar reduced hours for fasting as a point of view citing a slew of scholars across the ages.

Is suffering the best to route God?

So I wonder why we as Muslims subject ourselves to hardship and difficulty, when there is so much evidence – across the ages – to enable us to reduce the hours we fast when the hours lead us to suffer? Do we really believe that suffering is the best way to find nearness to God? – All the while when Prophet Muhammad was given a choice he would always chose the easiest option.

I am reminded of the historical account where the wife of Safwan bin Mu’attal, one of the companions, complained to Prophet Muhammad saying, “he does not get up for the dawn prayer, and only offers it after sunrise, when he rises.” When the Prophet asked Safwan about this he said that it was the custom of his people to rise after sunrise, not at the crack of dawn. So the Prophet responded, “In that case, pray when you wake up.”

This account relayed in Mishkat al-Masabih demonstrates the compassion and ease with which Prophet Muhammad conducted his affairs and advised people. And I find the prophetic approach to helping people incorporate faith into their life’s to be at odds with the rigidity so many Muslims adopt today with regards to almost all aspects of life, and God knows best.

For me as an individual while I do find merit in Ramadan when at home, I find the depth of experience amplified when I happen to be traveling during Ramadan (even if I am not fasting). There is this feeling of additional peace which aggregates itself when I am learning and experiencing beyond that which is the norm. It is that process of discovery of life, people and cultures, which help me appreciate who God is.

So instead of adhering to a pre-prescribed image of what it is to be a Muslim, my choice to travel – when work permits – during the month of Ramadan helps me discover who God is, better.

It is not for me to tell people what they should do: whether they should take medication enabling them to fast throughout the month, whether they should find themselves in the mosques for the Morning Prayer or delay their prayer till after sunrise when they wake up as the Prophet advised Safwan. The underlying objective of Ramadan – or indeed any action throughout the year – is to gain nearness to God.

If a person’s actions and choices –whatever they are- help them achieve this objective, no other person has a right to object or interfere in that individual’s relationship with God.

I may not fast when I am traveling – it is after all a lawful Quranic exemption. But as I find a richer more meaningful experience when I do, should the opportunity present itself, I will endeavor to do so.

May we all have the confidence to follow our instincts by adopting an approach to faith, which enhances our relationship with God; not imposes upon us a burden that we struggle to bear unnecessarily, without compassion. May we remember that God is indeed full of Mercy and may we make mercy and kindness a cornerstone to all of our lives, amen.

Ramadan Mubarak.

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