What does Ramadan mean to me?

There is as an expression in Turkish, which I used to hear while growing up in Istanbul: “Nefsine hakim olmak.” Simply put, it means to exercise self-control.  And that is what I tried to teach my children when they were little, when they asked me why I was getting up at wee hours of the morning, having breakfast and going back to bed before the sun came up.  I used to tell them, it was good for the soul to deny oneself some essential things every now and then. It would help us understand the true value of every single bite of food and every single sip of water we usually take for granted. I was hoping to instill in them a sense of self-discipline and self-control, which they could carry into their adolescence and later into adulthoods. I can’t say I observe the fasting ritual of Ramadan every single year, but I know I have tried my best to explain the reasoning behind this particular Muslim religious tradition to my Turkish-American children raised in the United States.

Have I always been a good model for them at all times?  Probably not.  Have they challenged my values and me as they grew up to be young adults in the past several years? Indeed they have.  And have they taught me the importance of “dialogue” when confronted by my tedious monologues about their friends, their habits and their futures?  Definitely. In fact, here is the one quote I think about every time I want to encapsulate what “self-control” truly means beyond the abstinence from eating and drinking: “One who loves his own perspective will never find the truth.”

And so, here is my appeal to all of my family, friends, colleagues, and the world at large.  Next time you feel the urge to reach out for that pithy sound-bite to criticize, dismiss, ridicule or misrepresent the “other”s point of view, take a deep breath, count to ten and think about it for a minute.  Are you saying what you’re saying because you believe it to be absolutely true, or are you saying it just so you can win the argument, score more points and keep up your status quo?  Think about it.  Because in my book (holy or not), “self-control” means staying away from the temptations of hubris.


Footnote for those of you who speak Turkish: “Anlayana sivrisinek saz, anlamayana davul zurna az.”  One can always try a Turkish-English dictionary for that one, but don’t hold your breath, as some things are just not translatable.


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