Like our cell phones, our souls need to be recharged frequently to work properly. As the month-long holy season of Ramadan begins Monday, a billion-and-a-half Muslims will welcome the opportunity to plug themselves in spiritually and physically. During this time we will answer the call to pray more than usual, recommit ourselves to acts of charity and forgiveness, and reflect on our many blessings.
As we undertake this annual religious journey to feed our souls, we also starve ourselves every day from sunrise to sunset. This symbolic contrition of fasting reminds us how fortunate we are to have plenty to eat and plentiful friends and family with whom to share it.
Our self-imposed hunger also is a sobering reminder of the plight of those who struggle every day to feed themselves and their families. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates more than 50 million Americans do not have enough to eat. Seventeen-million of those are children and, according to the American Association of Retired Persons, about 6 million are elderly.
It is ironic, therefore, that obesity is such an epidemic in the United States. According to the National Institutes of Health, one in every four Floridians is clinically obese. With obesity comes a host of co-morbidities, including Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, stroke, arthritis, obstructive sleep apnea and even cancer.
First Lady Michelle Obama is leading the "Let's Move" campaign to raise awareness about childhood obesity rates that have tripled in America over the past three decades, leaving nearly one in every three children overweight.
So, what do hunger and obesity have to do with Ramadan?
The obvious connection is that fasting usually results in weight loss. Perhaps if everyone tried it for a month and shed a few pounds, it would be inspiration to become more aware about when and what we eat.
But the benefits of fasting during Ramadan go far beyond improved physical health. By feeling the same hunger pains that so many others experience year-round, we are reminded of our spiritual and moral obligations to help others. We believe charity starts at home by taking care of the hungry and needy in our communities.
To that end, Muslims everywhere share their food with anyone — especially the needy — as we break the day-long fast at sundown with a meal called iftar. Sharing God's bounties is just one more way for us to thank Him for our many blessings.
As we abstain from food during Ramadan, we also strengthen our spirits by abstaining from bad behavior, such as arrogance, envy, hate and dishonesty. It is unfortunate that so many of these terrible traits are prevalent in America today. A culture of greed and deceit seems to be systemic in our society, eroding the foundation of honesty, hard work and traditional family values that made our country great.
Without a doubt, times are tough, and the problems are global: Oil prices, unemployment, civil unrest, home foreclosures, wars and terrorism, to name just a few. We often hear that trying times will bring out the worst in people. But it is just as true that these times also bring out the best in people. Ramadan is an opportunity to remind ourselves that we are inherently good and that, with God's help, we can overcome evil in the world.
It is more important than ever for us to learn about one another. People of all faiths should embrace the life lessons we will revisit this Ramadan season: Self-control, forgiveness, humility, patience, charity and obedience to our creator. May God's mercy encompass all humanity this blessed month.
Dr. Adel Eldin is an interventional cardiologist with offices in Brooksville and Wesley Chapel.