Without a timeframe to makes sense of events, things cease to have meaning. Nothing has a beginning, and nothing has an end. Time is no longer experienced as something lineal, but as a succession of atomized moments without a relationship, floating in a vacuum. Byung-Chul Han thus argues that we have lost “The Scent of Time”, which is also the title of the book from which the above lines are paraphrased.
Ramadan has a distinct scent. It’s time smells like dates and milk, samosas and harira. It smells like friends and family, long nights and, sometimes, even longer days. If you ask any Muslim, they will all tell you that the time of Ramadan is special.
Allah has chosen people, places and times and has favoured some over the others. Ramadan is one of those times chosen by Allah, and that’s why we fast during it. Because of that, Ramadan is also the time in which we might experience the meaning of living a Total Life.
A Total Life is that in which every moment is meaningful and in which every action has a purpose.
While fasting we abstain from many things that, at any other time, would be permissible and recommended, and this requires that we are aware. Paradoxically, in doing less we become more aware. This awareness lasts from dawn until dusk, and its effect extends throughout the night. Because we become more aware, we are more conscious. Because we are more conscious, everything that we do becomes more meaningful. Every action that we do while fasting exhales the scent of our fast. There is a Hadith that says that Allah loves the scent of the breath of a fasting person.
The fasting during the day is coupled with the recommended extra worshipping at night. Ramadan breaks our habits because we structure our days for fasting and our nights for worshipping. Everything that we do, during the day and at night, has a purpose and because everything that we do during this month is intentional, it is done with awareness of this purpose. Thus, we taste the meaning of living a Total Life.
Everything that occurs in our lives moves between two opposing polarities: the ordinary and the extraordinary. It all belongs to a point on this continuum. On the one end is the ordinary – where the majority of life’s occurrences reside – decreasing exponentially as we come closer to the other end, the extraordinary. What gives meaning to our ordinary, daily existence, is our quest to bring every moment closer to the end of the extraordinary. The more we achieve this, the more this continuum expands.
When we bring a daily occurrence, such as waking up, eating breakfast or working, closer to our conception of how any of those things could become extraordinary, what before seemed extraordinary now becomes ordinary and a new horizon of extraordinary possibilities open. The continuous desire for that extraordinary possibility is what we call in Arabic, Himma.
Ramadan presents to us the extraordinary possibility of tasting a Total Life: living intentionally with awareness and purpose; so that, after having tasted it, we would aim to elevate every other time to this height. Doing so will create meaning in our day-to-day lives, and meaning brings joy and contentment.
Ramadan has a beginning and an end and it’s not floating in vacuum, it has a place on the calendar. The occurrence of Ramadan marks the passing of time, every year we reach it in a different state. This linear experience of time helps us make sense of our lives, and as Byung-Chul Han says, it gives a scent. The scent of Ramadan is the scent of a Total Life, a parfum that we might want to carry all year.
Ramadan is the extraordinary moment in the year in which the possibility of a Total Life is forced upon us, thank God.