We are well into the month of Ramadan now, a month marked by daily fasting and increased worship for Muslims. Most people who fast will have adjusted their body clocks. They will now be used to their changed eating hours, rising early, praying Fajr, eating late and if energy permits, going for tarawih prayers.


Ramadan is a blessed but curious month in the Muslim calendar. From the outside it is seen as a month in which Muslims don’t eat or drink for several hours in the day, but essentially the month is not really about food at all – its about worship, about devotion and about reaching out to God.


Perhaps this is why I was struck when I recently invited a Muslim couple for Iftar and when it cam to pray Maghrib the man did not get up. I could not understand why he just sat there while all the other men in the house rose to pray. To my surprise I found myself slightly annoyed- after all did he have no shame? But he was a guest in my house and I respected his decision and knew that I had no right to question him nor prompt him.


I set to thinking what is the right thing to do in such circumstances. The Qur’anic injunction on `forbidding wrong and enjoining what is right,’ the strong emphasis in Islamic tradition on encouraging people to pray had to be balanced by respect and generosity towards ones guests. I didn’t really know him too well and I certainly had no right to judge his piety or devotion to God. Only God knows the `innermost secrets’ of one's heart. Furthermore, what if he had got up to pray but only for the mere show of it, simply to appease another’s annoyance; would that not have been hypocritical of him?


After prayers, we all re-assembled into the dining room where the conversation was again warm and good-humoured. As the evening wore on, I realised that each of us has our own ways of keeping God alive in our hearts. Rituals define a faith but while fasting and praying are both pillars of Islam, humility and hospitality towards others should be what define us as Muslims.


- Professor Mona Siddiqui