The Wisdom of Emptying
By Ibrahim Naseem
The Muslim scholar and poet al-Rumi says, "There is an unseen sweetness in the stomach's emptiness." He compares people to reed pens, wooden instruments that could not write without first being hollowed out. "Be empty," he says, "and write secrets." Ramadan comes from the Arabic root "ramada," which refers to severe heat, as in the harsh heat of the sun scorching the earth. Through the properties of heat do metals become purified of impurities that weaken the metal and actually change its identity.
Ramadan is a time of purification, a reawakening of our original identity (the one that really counts) — a way to filter out all that makes us captive to the things of this world which always change and never keep lasting meaning, such as ethnic background, geographic origin, wealth, prestige, or zealous national pride.
What Ramadan reminds us of is our ultimate identity as creatures of a mighty and merciful God, who made us and eventually wants us back.
Rumi says more: "There is an unseen sweetness in the stomach's emptiness. We are lutes. When the soundbox is filled, no music can come forth. When the brain and the belly burn from fasting, every moment a new song rises out of the fire. The mists clear, and a new vitality makes you spring up the steps before you. Be empty and cry as a reed instrument. Be empty and write secrets with a reed pen. When satiated by food and drink, an unsightly metal statue is seated where your spirit should be. When fasting, good habits gather like helpful friends. Don’t give in to illusion and lose your power. But even when will and control have been lost, they will return when you fast, like soldiers appearing out of the ground, or pennants flying in the breeze."