Our guest today is Professor Kemal Sayar, a psychiatrist who is also literature professor. His elegant style and broad-minded perspective as well as the depth in his answers to our questions are such that they will make us contemplate on our lives of worship and the month of Ramadan.
In your work "Yavaşla" (Slow down) you talk about and criticize the fast pace of life in modern life. Is the month of Ramadan an opportunity to slow down time?
K.S: Worship is a very original way to slow down life. People stop the normal flow of time through the time they set aside for worship and thus they develop a brand new dimension of time which will allow for them to create a bridge with the eternal world. Thus, by deviating from the notion of daily time, they end up speaking to themselves more and engaging in more introspection. Ramadan is one such opportunity that will allow for life to slow down and turn one towards the real reason for their creation after purging them of their material preoccupations. In Ramadan, people experience both hunger and thirst and find the opportunity to empathize with people. In the words of Ahmet Haşim they live to the fullest the peculiar elegance of "Muslim time." We can see Ramadan as an interruption, break or shaking in the face of fast-paced life.
There exists a life outside of pleasure as well
While experiencing stress during fasting can be considered normal, we witness that people are tolerant and empathic during this time. As a psychiatrist, how would you evaluate this?
K.S: People can become quite bewildered when they are distanced from their routine lives. Many people see Ramadan as an opportunity to find depth and beauty in the divine dimension this month offers. Ramadan provides us with a great opportunity to distance one's self from matter and attain the knowledge of the divine as well as understand the essence of possessions. The feeling of hunger carries one into state wherein they feel the world is a finite place; the human being realizes that life is not a place that turns on a wheel which is based on pleasure. There is life outside of pleasure. We experience this spiritual joy in Ramadan. We waiver our material pleasures for spiritual pleasures. Thus Ramadan becomes a protest against modern civilization which sees life as revolving around a hedonistic axis and humans only being able to get somewhere in life through satisfying their material desires. Because in the month of Ramadan, people will enter a brand new dimension of time, thinking and existence. The global system cannot interfere in this regard. Ramadan is outside of the global system. To this end, I perceive Ramadan as a month of resistance.
Some people may become angered due to their various addictions to things such as food; however, we should also remember that Ramadan is also abstaining from bad words, acts and rage. In essence, we are refraining from all that is bad during Ramadan. Thus, this month is a great opportunity for man to train his or her ego; for the ego to be gated in and for the caprices of the ego to be tamed.
How is that people can exert such level of self-control in this month when they normal resist rules that have been imposed upon them by others?
K.S: Discipline systems which are a result of cruelty of man imposed on another will never go anywhere. This will only create anger, stress and undesired reaction in people. People feel to need to oppose such methods in a reactionary way. Nobody can be molded into a form or consistency without their own will. One of the most basic factors leading to a person feeling that they are alive is comprehension of existence that which is superior to and above them. We dream about an ideal that won't cease to exist and decay with time like us. When we catch a hold of this ideal -- religion helps one in this regard -- they can stand tall in the face of the greatest adversities. Westerns have great difficulty comprehending fasting. They see fasting as a form of punishment to one's own body. However the incredible gift we experience at the end of the day... there are so many things that make us happy at the iftar tables where people have been convening for centuries, a culture where this month is realized in joy for yet another year, that the small sacrifice and suffering only pale in comparison.
Ramadan is the festival of Muslims
The month of Ramadan is a festival for Muslims. It is something to be celebrated. During the day we experience a vast depth of growing closer to Allah. And at night people spill on to the streets in a mood of friendship and celebration. This is very important. During the month of Ramadan there are house visits, friends who haven't seen each other for a long time reunite, and mosques are filled up with worshippers during tarawih. For this reason, Ramadan is a peculiar time of year on Muslim lands. It is the "Muslim time," and Muslim month. I have been in various countries. For example, I felt this joy very strongly in Egypt. The country is buzzing with life until sahur time. There is a constant movement and joy in people's lives. This is a very important attribute which separates us from the rest of the world and makes us who we are. One of the most important reasons why the Muslim world has not been crushed and swallowed by the global system is the atmosphere of Ramadan.
What can you say about the effects of Ramadan on children?
K.S: I think that experiencing Ramadan in a family setting is like knot put into the soul a child: if Ramadan is fully experienced in family, the spiritual coordinates of that child are determined. The child understands where they belong, who they are, which nationality they are and which level of civility they are a member of. Children realize who they are through these Ramadans, eids and Friday Prayers -- all celebrated in a festival-like fashion. Because it is here that the child understands that they are part of a large circle of meaning and as a result of this, they are keeping alive a centuries-old tradition. They say, "I am not a creature that has been beamed here from Mars; I am the list circle in the chain of tradition that has been around for years." In this respect, I think Ramadan has an incredible effect in providing experiences for children, creating a feeling of continuity and determining their spiritual coordinates. We must experience this feeling with our children in a state of joy. Our children should feel that a brand new month has arrived and that this month is very holy and beautiful.