One of the BBC's 100 Women, Sherin Khankan is a sociologist, lecturer and author of Women Are the Future of Islam. She is also an imam at the Mariam mosque in Copenhagen, the first female mosque in Europe, which she founded in 2016.
Here Sherin explains why Ramadan is about so much more than fasting...
'Sawm' is the Arabic term for fasting and is translated as 'abstinence' – be that from food, water, sex or ego. Ramadan is the month where the Quran was revealed to The Prophet Muhammad through the Angel Jibreel. It symbolises the beginning of a new era called Islam. Among the first words that were revealed from the Quran was 'iqra', meaning read, reflect, understand.
Ramadan is about awakening. "Die before you die", The Prophet said. It means wake up before you die. Ramadan is about the awakening of the generous human being. Muslims greet each other with the words 'Ramadan kareem' during Ramadan, which means: Have a blessed and generous Ramadan. The other replies 'Allahu akram', which means: God is the most generous of all. What does it mean to awaken the generous human being?
Allah says in the Quran: "I will not change a people’s destiny before they themselves change what is within their hearts." Ramadan is about the inner and outer change and to me, it’s about the inner movement of the heart and the outer activism on the ground for justice and equality. It is one of the five pillars of Islam.
This year, during Ramadan, I made some observations.
The Prophet once said: "There will be some among you, who during the fasting period won’t feel anything but thirst and hunger." Ramadan makes it clear that our outer needs play a large role in our daily lives. But after a few days of fasting these same needs become less and less important. I realise that they are so easy to satisfy. Therefore Ramadan reminds me that there is more to life than our basic outer needs.
Fasting makes me realise that we are a part of a larger community. A unique bond across nations is created when Muslims all over the world are fasting at the same time, doing the same movement at the same time.
During this Ramadan I invited non-Muslim close friends to fast with me and to join the prayer and 'iftar' [the meal that breaks the fast] in the Mariam Mosque. Ramadan is to me a metaphor for unity across boundaries. It reminds me that multiplicity and diversity are a blessing.
The Quranic ideal of the good and just human being is not conditioned by race, gender, belief or nationality. The only thing that separates one human from another is spiritual excellence or virtue, understood as righteous actions. To be good towards one fellow human being and accept one’s neighbour despite our differences – these are some of the clearest signs that a person carries Islam within their heart – kindness, patience, mercy and tolerance.
Prayer is central in Islam and also during the month of Ramadan, when believers gather every night to pray together. The common prayer or 'salah' is a movement between unity and diversity – a mental and physical movement and a daily reminder of otherness and the willingness to embrace what is different from ourselves.
To be good towards one fellow human being and accept one’s neighbour despite our differences – these are some of the clearest signs that a person carries Islam within their heart.
I stand at the end of the prayer, then ritually turn my head to the right and then to the left towards my sisters and we touch each other on the shoulders.
Ramadan reminds me every day and every moment that we cannot grasp the unity of Allah without understanding the multiplicity of what Allah created. Jews, Christians, Muslims: we all share the essential idea that God is One. You cannot claim to love God if you do not respect your fellow human beings, regardless of faith.
Some Muslims describe Ramadan as a test from God, but I do not see it as a test so that God may know us, but a test so that we may know ourselves.
Ramadan teaches man about forgiveness. When we do harm unto others, we do harm unto ourselves. Ramadan is about the art of forgiving, accepting and letting go.
Finally, Ramadan is about the importance of giving to the poor. To feel what they feel. To sustain, to endure. It is about letting go of the ego, of envy, of the wish to control, and letting go of hatred.