Ramadan Reflection Day 2: The Freedom of the Fast

Imam Khalid Latif is blogging his reflections during the month of Ramadan, featured daily on HuffPost Religion. For a complete record of his previous posts, visit his author page, and to follow along with the rest of his reflections, sign up for an author email alert above.

It's strongly recommended for Muslims to read the Quran on a regular basis and during the month of Ramadan it's that much more emphasized for us to do so. In the sunni tradition, there is a prayer called taraweeh that is performed in the nights of Ramadan and is usually lead by a haafidh, someone who has memorized the Quran in its entirety in the original Arabic. The haafidh leads because most people are trying to complete an entire reading of the Quran over the course of the month during the taraweeh prayers. In the shia tradition, the taraweeh prayer is not performed but there is still a strong emphasis on reading the Quran.

We have three different people who are taking turns leading the taraweeh prayers at the Islamic Center at NYU. Last night, one of them recited a verse from the second chapter of the Quran that states La ikraaha fid deen -- There is no compulsion in religion. Aside from the effect the sheer beauty of his recitation had on me, the meaning behind these words themselves was so impacting. In particular there were two things that came to my mind afterwards.

Primarily, faith is a matter of the heart. It's something that exists inside of you. For one to be coerced into "believing" is a violation of this principle because that coercion exists only on the outward part of one's self, not the inward, and then it's not really faith.

Secondly, most of us take our ability and freedom to choose for granted. It's truly a gift and at the same time a responsibility that we sometimes just don't uphold. If you've ever been in a situation where you don't have the freedom to choose, you know how frustrating it can be. The frustration isn't necessarily from being made to do something that you don't want to do or being kept from doing something that you would like to do; rather it's from your inability to do anything about it.

I can choose to live an ascetic lifestyle, but what if I had no choice in being hungry or thirsty? What if poverty was forced upon me? After fasting from 4am til 8pm yesterday, the water that I drank at sunset tasted more refreshing than any water I had drank for a long time and the date that I ate tasted so sweet. What if regardless of whether the sun was up or down, I had nothing to eat or drink at all?

Fasting is supposed to teach me to appreciate everything that I have been given and one of the most precious things that I've been given is the ability to choose. I choose to be selfish or to be selfless. I choose to be harsh or to be gentle. I choose to be offended or to be understanding. There is no compulsion in religion. I choose to make my fasting about me or to make it about others.