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17th October,  2004  Volume 11, Issue 14

First with the news and free with its views                                     First with the news and free with its views                             First with the news and free with its views                                    

Review

An American doctor at home in Sri Lanka

By Risidra Mendis 

It comes as no surprise that Dr. Laurel  Botsford chose to live closer to the Kalubowila Hospital. But what is surprising is that Botsford has almost given up her.....

More......


Review more articles

> Medicinal plants going into extinction

> The Sri Lankan who came back home

> The language of flowers

> 'Mother of all beings...'

> The essential fast


 An American doctor at home in Sri Lanka

By Risidra Mendis 

It comes as no surprise that Dr. Laurel  Botsford chose to live closer to the Kalubowila Hospital. But what is surprising is that Botsford has almost given up her American way of life and has settled for our very own nelun ala, gotukola and red rice.

'Food is unbelievable'

"The food in Sri Lanka is so unbelievable. I cannot believe - so many kinds of fresh vegetables, the red rice and the fruits! I have lived here for three years and I do not think I can ever go back," confides Botsford.

"I have even tried the seeni sambol, pol sambol and the lunu miris. They are wonderful," she said.

Laurel Botsford who has worked as a scuba diving instructor in the Maldives has undergone many injuries during her life. "I was essentially a sports person and I have been injured many times. My injuries helped me to understand the injuries of other people and their pain," she said.

Speaking of Sri Lanka, Botsford said that Sri Lankans ought to open their eyes to the wonders around them. Botsford does not cease to talk about the maalu miris (capsicums), murunga (drumsticks), the mukunuwenna, kathurumurunga, diya labu and the kohila. "These are such wonderful things and so full of goodness. This is all I eat, my food is Sri Lankan and I feel so great!" she exclaims.

"I am a vegetarian not for a religious or moral reason. It is simply because it does wonders for my body," she explained.

Taste

"I think that many people in Sri Lanka think with their taste-buds," she pointed out. "We must concentrate on the taste of the food and not on the salt and the oil. When you eat a cabbage leaf, concentrate on the taste of the cabbage," said Dr. Botsford who went on to say that vegetables eaten raw gives one all the vitamins and the minerals.

"Salads are wonderful. But we cannot deprive our bodies of the food they have been used to by starting on salads and greens all at once. They must be gradually incorporated into the diet," she said.

"Rarely I will have a glass of wine and some cheese, but that is it. No beef and meat for me. I am living with these wonderful vegetables and produce of your country," says Dr. Botsford who practices acupuncture treatment and Shiatsu massages.

"But we have to keep in mind that it is better to cut down on the coconut oil because of the very high fat content in this oil. What Sri Lankans ought to concentrate on is in cutting down the stored fat in their bodies - this means exercising more," explained Botsford. "Begin your aerobic activity with a step on your staircase, step on it and back, go on and on till you feel that it has raced up your heart!" she said.

She said that most people exercise in the evening and this means that the body finds the easy way out by burning the fat in the food of the day. "What we must concentrate on is burning up the stored fat and for this to happen one must exercise early in the morning. We must also remember that when we speak of walking, it must be a brisk walk and not a stroll," said Dr. Botsford.

 "Exercise in the morning when the stomach is empty is the way to cut down on stored fat. But do not get me wrong, exercising in the afternoon is fine too," she said.

Sense of spirituality

"I feel a deep sense of spirituality here in Sri Lanka. It has nothing to do with religion," she pointed out. "I love the gentle, slow lifestyle and I prefer it to the hectic pace in the USA," said Botsford.

Botsford has studied acupuncture here in Sri Lanka because she was convinced about the treatment after she was cured of cervical spondylosis, a condition which Western medicine could not cure her of. "Thereafter I was determined to study acupuncture and today I am qualified in acupuncture, auriculotherapy, lasertherapy therapeutic massage, physiotherapy, moxibustion Shiatsu, basic homeopathy and energy healing," said Dr. Botsford.

Dr. Laurel Botsford is a woman of varying abilities. She practices the Shiatsu massage with great confidence. Though Shiatsu is a Japanese massage technique, Botsford does it with ease, determining how much pressure to give, when, where and to whom.

She uses not only her fingers, but her hands, elbows, knees and feet.

"Shiatsu is a wonderful massage. It makes the tired aching muscles and mind feel great comfort, relief and relaxation. And when a person dozes off during treatment, I consider that to be the greatest compliment," she said.

She said that Shiatsu works on the deeper energy levels of the body, encouraging free and evenly balanced flow of this energy along the body's energy channels.

"I have traveled much in the USA - though I am from Texas, I have been living in Missouri, Colorado, New Jersey and Wisconsin. This is because my father was a pilot and we had to move to several places," said Botsford. I have been to Japan too. But there is no place like Sri Lanka," she said.


Medicinal plants going into extinction

By Risidra Mendis 

The use of plants for medicinal purposes is not something new for Sri Lankans, who have for many years relied on the wonders of nature. Our ancestors understood the value of medicinal and endemic plants. This is why they made use of such plants without destroying them.

However, today due to the greed and selfishness of man, valuable medicinal plants are now being gradually up-rooted and destroyed for various reasons.

Medicinal plants

Rare medicinal plants found in the jungles and remote areas in the country are most often destroyed to make room for human encroachment. Smuggling these plants out of the country to meet the growing demand overseas has also resulted in a grave threat to endemic and native plants.

But despite the efforts made by conservationists, nature lovers and even the Customs Department, much remains to be done if we are to protect these plants from becoming extinct.

The protection of these medicinal plants is important not only for Sri Lanka but for the whole world, as most of these plants are found only in Sri Lanka. If destroyed these plants would be gone forever.

Speaking to The Sunday Leader, Naturalist, Kamal Edirisinghe said as recorded by the Peradeniya Botanical Gardens there are 3771 flowering plants in Sri Lanka. "Out of the 3771 flowering plants 926 have been recorded as endemic to Sri Lanka," says Edirisinghe. Also there are 343 types of ferns out of which 58 are endemic to Sri Lanka.

"Even though Sri Lanka is a small country, around 1500 plants have been identified as medicinal plants. However, there still remain a large number of medicinal plants not yet identified or made use of in the country. Among these plants are a number of fern types," explained Edirisinghe.

Among the endemic plants in Sri Lanka are the kokum (Kokoona zeylanica), gal demata (Impatiens repens), bu karal heba (Achyranthus bidentata), nagameru yam (Ipsea speciosa)), iru raja (Zeuxine regia), girithilla (Argyreia populifolia) and idda (Walidda antidysenterica).

Going extinct

Edirisinghe went on to say that due to deforestation - the cutting down of trees, bushes and plants to make way for new paths and roads and the removal of medicinal plants in large numbers - have resulted in many valuable medicinal plants being threatened with extinction. Endemic plants such as kokum, gal demata, iru raja, bu karal heba and the nagameru yam and medicinal plants such as ekaveriya (Rauvolfia serpentia), duhudu (Celastrus paniculatus), kothala hibutu (Salacia reticulata), venivel (Coscinium fenestratum), vanaraja (Anoectochilus setaceus), madara (Cleistanthus collinus), dorana (Dipterocarpus glandulosus) and muruvadul (Marsdenia tenacissima) are on the verge of extinction.

According to Edirisinghe, as fern types are most often more sensitive than other varieties, they are likely to get destroyed faster than other medicinal plants. "If there is a change in the climate or weather pattern then, these plants can easily be destroyed. Due to the destruction of jungle areas where the climate is cool and shady these fern types lose their natural habitat," Edirisinghe said.

Among the rare and endemic fern type plants found in Sri Lanka are the mayura sheeka (Actiniopteris radiata), patidathu (Ophioglossum pendulum), kuda hadaya (Lycopodium pulcherrimum), maha hadaya (Huperzia phyllantha), ek peth piyum (Ophioglossum reticulatum) and thaniwella (Helminthostachys zeylanica).

According to Edirisinghe, medicinal plants removed for their roots face the risk of going extinct much faster. People have a tendency to remove the whole plant instead of only part of the root. "For example the bin kohomba plant is in great demand these days and is most often removed completely for medicinal purposes. People should be taught to remove only the excess roots instead of destroying the entire plant," Edirisinghe said.

According to Edirisinghe, among the medicinal plants where the roots are most often used in Sri Lanka are the thotila (Oroxylum indicum), ath demata (Gmelina arborea), beli (Aegle marmelos), palol (Stereospermum suaveolens) and mahamidi (Premna latifolia).

Creeper varieties

"In Sri Lanka there are 108 creeper varieties that are most often used by native doctors for snake bites, dislocation of limbs and broken bones. Among these are the rasa kinda, kiri vel and kalavel creepers.

According to Edirisinghe, the only way to protect these valuable and endemic plants in the country is to encourage people to grow them at home even as a small time business and encourage others to grow them as well.

"Apart from selling these plants and earning an income these plants can be protected for future generations. Plants such as katuwel batu, amukkara, nil avari, rathnithul thithpili, polpala, nika, pawatta (Vanapola) aloe vera, vadakaha, lunuwila and gotukola can be grown as a business venture. Medicinal plants including kothala hibutu have a good demand in the foreign market," says Edirisinghe. "It is the responsibility of every Sri Lankan to make an effort to protect these valuable plants for our future generation," Edirisinghe added.


The Sri Lankan who came back home

By Ranee Mohamed 

When Phylix Selvadurai left Sri Lanka in 1975, he had about 30 pounds in his pocket. Determined to study accountancy, this popular young man had about 85 friends accompanying him to the airport. But when he reached the United Kingdom, he was alone.

"I missed my parents a lot and my friends too. The loneliness made me sad, but it did not stop me. I did not give up in my goal in life. I wanted to achieve what I went there to achieve. And I did. I kept on going. I wanted to get my qualifications and perhaps return in 1979," said Selvadurai. But Selvadurai did not come back, because of the situation in Sri Lanka at that time, instead he began to work in the United Kingdom.

"Once you set a goal, you have to keep on going till you achieve it. I began my property developing career in 1985. Accountancy gave me a very good background. I have been doing very well in property," said Selvadurai modestly.

Today Selvadurai's Moreland International manages a property portfolio of 80 million sterling pounds. They are also engaged in developing property worth over 10 million sterling pounds in and around London.

"I love Sri Lanka"

"I loved Sri Lanka and even when I left Sri Lanka, I thought that I will always come back. You see, I love, Sri Lanka," pointed out Selvadurai. "Giving jobs to people gives me great  satisfaction. If I give jobs for 100 people, there may be four people in the family, in this way about 400 people will be looked after. That is the best charity I can do," pointed out Selvadurai.

Phylix Selvadurai today is the managing director of Moreland International Land and Development in London and managing director of Global Investments Lanka Holdings in Sri Lanka.

Phylix Selvadurai said that he wants to do everything possible here in Sri Lanka. "You can have buildings, but you need the right staff. We need to create training programmes," pointed out Selvadurai. "We need to come up with our hotel school," he pointed out.

"My plan for Sri Lanka is a long term plan. I am looking for a 20 to 30 year plan. In 1982, Sri Lanka was among the top five destinations in the world, then the problems started. I want to have eight hotels in Sri Lanka," said Selvadurai.

Phylix Selvadurai began the first phase of an apartment hotel called Global Towers in Wellawatte. He intends to commence work on the next tower soon. "We will have rooms, executive suites, two bedroom suites and three bedroom suites," said Selvadurai about his intentions for hotels in Sri Lanka.

Ambalangoda will have a spa tourist resort within the next three months. "I want to have a hotel in Nuwara Eliya with spas and swimming pools," he said. He is planning a fourth hotel in Vavuniya. "There is nothing there now," pointed out Selvadurai.

"We will go to Trincomalee too," he said, speaking of his plans for the near future.

"Within the next five years I plan to invest Rs.4.5 billion," said Selvadurai. "I have spoken to many Sri Lankan expatriates and they want to come back to this lovely country. I love London. I have spent 30 years there," said the essentially Sri Lankan Selvadurai, who keeps coming back here and finally he decided that Sri Lanka was the land for him, the land where his heart is and thus the five hotels.

"I am planning to bring 50 to 100 expatriates who will invest here. They will be part of the corporate culture, " said Selvadurai who has brought here his own money and not borrowed money from any bank here.

What can be admired about this millionaire with a heart is that he has worked as a cab driver, as a counter- assistant in a pub and even cleaned floors. "I am not ashamed. I have worked hard and climbed the ladder. I have been honest and hardworking. I have been studying and supporting myself doing various jobs. And eventually I have made my success," said Selvadurai.

Recollections

"I always told myself that I did not come here just to be a taxi driver, I worked in a wimpy bar and I cleaned dishes, but I knew what my goal in life was, so I was not distressed. I worked in these jobs while I was studying and then resigned. I self-supported myself. I worked and I studied and I lived there - paying my bills and my rent. I am a self made man," pointed out Selvadurai.

Speaking of life, he said that he believes in fairness. "My life has to be meaningful - when I live and when I die. I want to know that I have done something valuable to other people. Being valuable only to yourself is not enough. I do not want to see an uneven society, I want to see a fair and better society without racial barriers, colour barriers and religious barriers. I do not believe in these things," he added.

Speaking of his family life, Selvadurai said that his parents and brothers and sisters back here in Sri Lanka gave him the warmth and love of family life. "Thereafter in my marriage I experienced love and warmth again. My wife Sussanah and my two children give me the greatest happiness," said Selvadurai with a smile.

"Today nobody can tell me what it is like to be in the kitchen, what it is like to wash dishes. I know it all. I know about it," he said.

Loving son

Remembering about his parents, Phylix Selvadurai spoke lovingly about his mother and father. "My father told me that money will be in your hands today and in another person's hands tomorrow. Do not forget your friends and family. "So I might become famous one day, but I will not forget, I have a long way to go. I want to give a lot of jobs," he said.

"People left Sri Lanka because the economic benefit in other countries are better. Sri Lanka is a beautiful country but the money is not here. We must improve this country," said Selvadurai.

Speaking of his Global Towers Hotel, Selvadurai said that he is happy with his hotel and was even happier that he was able to get a CEO as Chandra Mohotti. "I had eyes for him when he was working as the general manager of the Galadari Hotel. I have watched the way the Galadari Hotel came up. I wanted to have a five star quality manager to run this hotel. Fortunately I got him," said Selvadurai.

Speaking of Sri Lanka and its hotels and entertainment, Selvadurai said that in any country, its beaches naturally become the most prominent area. "They will worship the beaches. But look at our beaches," said Selvadurai pointing out to the drying fish and dirt on the Wellawatte beach.

In Sri Lanka the moment tourists arrive, they take them south, but what about Colombo? Let us clean the beach, have lights and night shops so that there will be night shopping on the beach. There is hardly any local entertainment. Let us bring the entertainment to the beachfront. Let us make these two or three miles of this beach the most fantastic place to be in.

"I will be engaged in property development in Sri Lanka to the value of 12 million sterling pounds and I like to include the beachfront in my plans," confided Selvadurai.

Phylix Selvadurai is a Sri Lankan with many successes and valuable assets. Yet despite all his achievements Selvadurai says that his greatest asset in his life are not financial - that they are his son Marcus and his little daughter Sophie. "They are the most valuable assets in my life," said Phylix, the man with a heart.


The language of flowers

By Lakshman de Silva 

Flowers are one of the loveliest things in the world. A lot of folklore, beliefs, legends, superstitions and proverbs are clustered around many of them. Here are some charming beliefs about some flowers.

The rose is the queen of flowers. It is a symbol of purity, incorruptibility and love. Rose is beauty. Girls used to put a rose under their pillow to see the face of their lover in their dreams. Rose petals are scattered at weddings to ensure a happy married life.

Mystical rose

The following is a legend about the rose. God who in his wisdom created light, likewise made the rose, made it chaste and pure with sweet fragrance. The Virgin Mary is associated with the rose. She is called the (Rosa Mystica) Mystical Rose.

The forget me not is a flower which symbolises friendship and loyalty. In Europe, men and women wear it in devoted determination to remain constant to each other.

There is an ancient superstition that the flower pansy, in its juice has the peculiar property to evoke instant love as in Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream. Titania falls in love with the first ass she sees when Puck has dropped Oberon's juice of 'love-in-idleness' into her eyes. The flower was originally white says a legend but was turned purple by Cupid the god of love in the same play. Shakespeare refers to this legend:

And the imperial voters passed on in maiden meditation, fancy free yet marked I where the bolt of Cupid fell,

It fell upon a little Western flower

Before milk-white, now pure with love's wound,

And maidens call it love idleness.

The daisy flower - there is the custom of knotting long stalks together and making daisy chains. This goes back to antiquity.

The primrose is the symbol of pleasure in Hamlet. Shakespeare refers to the primrose path of dalliance. Primrose League Conservative Association was formed in memory of Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield.

The daffodil is considered an unlucky flower by the gypsies, but most other races consider it as a bringer of good luck. A folk belief has it that the first man to see daffodils bloom in spring shall be rich before the summer came. The powdered root of this flower was held to be a cure for some forms of insanity.

As for the flower violet, the story goes, this flower stood proud and erect until the shadow of the cross fell upon it since when it has hung its head in undying sorrow at man's inhumanity. This flower is the symbol of innocence and faithful friendship. The Catholic Church uses it as a colour of mourning.

The carnation is regarded as a symbol of good luck and happiness. In Italy and Spain this flower is used in love portions. It signifies fascination, especially the power of a woman to attract a man. According to a legend, the carnation flowers were formed by the tears of the Virgin Mary as she stood at Golgotha gazing at her crucified son.

Lily represents a person or things of special whiteness or purity. According to a legend, the lily grew from the tears of Eve shed when she was driven out of the Garden of Eden. Lily flowers in the hand of the statues of St. Joseph is a symbol of his purity. Lily is also the symbol of motherhood and of marriage.

Anemone: Aphrodite's wish

Anemone is called windflower after Greek Anemone, daughter of the wind. The legend goes that Adonis was a youth beloved by Aphrodite (Venus), the goddess of love. He was killed by a wild boar while out hunting and the flower anemone sprang out of the ground from his blood at the command of Aphrodite. According to another legend it turned red with the blood of Christ.

Flowers go hand in hand with human life. They are used for worship at churches and temples. At weddings, bouquets for brides, bride's maids and flower girls. Flowers adorn homes and also occasions and parties. Greetings and messages 'say it' with flowers. At funerals wreaths are laid in graves by family members and friends.

Songs and hymns go with flowers:
* Lily Of The Valley
* Mystique Rose - What Tree
* Flower E'en The Fairest
* Is Half So Fair As Thee


'Mother of all beings...'

In the year 1853 on December 22 was born an infant girl to a simple, humble, God fearing couple in a remote and obscure village, Jeyarampati about 60 miles west of Calcutta. The young parents of the precious first born, Ramachandra Mukerjee and Shyamasundari rejoiced at her birth. They named her Sarada, an epithet of Goddess Saraswathi.

'Little girl'

A few days before conceiving the child, the mother Shyamasundari had an unusual experience. When she was resting by a pond, she saw a little girl with her anklets tinkling come to her from nowhere. The girl had hugged her saying, "mother, I want to come home." At this Shyamasundari fainted. She was found and taken home. When she came round, she felt the presence of life within her which she surmised was that of the little girl who entered her womb. 

Such miraculous incidents have happened in the births of saints and prophets too. So Sarada's birth itself is shrouded in mystery. 

Holy Mother Sri Sarada Devi

It is an accepted fact that Goddess Amman - be it - Parasakthi or Kali - manifested herself, appearing as a little girl dressed in skirt and blouse and wearing anklets. Many have vowed seeing her in person or in their dreams.

Sarada like any other Indian girl was brought up in the typical Hindu tradition. None would have even dreamt that this little girl going around doing the household chores along with her mother would one day emerge as the holiest of holy women in India and become a symbol of Indian womanhood, a household word, a pointer and a beacon light to all women, Hindus or otherwise.

Yes, the turning point came in her life when as a little child of five years she was given in marriage to Sadadhar, a young man from kamarpukur, who was a Kali devotee, who later was known as Ramakrishna. He was a young man of 23 years. Their marriage also was by divine will. When Sadadhar got to know his parents were looking for a partner for him, he told them that the girl born for him was at Jayarambati, at Ramachandra Mukerjee's house. Sure enough his parents found Sarada.

Before this incident Sarada had gone to a temple festival with some senior ladies. One of them playfully asked her whom she would marry, she pointed at a young man who was none other than Sadadhar himself who had also come for the festival. If this is not the work of divinity what else is? Sarada stayed in her parents' home till she came of age.

Divine union

Their's was a divine union. Sri Ramakrishna was a Sakthi devotee. He saw all women as the manifestation of Goddess Parvathi or Kali. It was said he would laugh and cry and then in ecstasy go into a trance or samadi. He perhaps had direct communion with the Goddess. When Sarada joined him as a young beautiful maiden, he gazed at her face and sunk into a state of ecstasy because he saw Kali in her face. So he did the Shodasi pooja, with her seated in the place set for Kali. Sarada also accepted it without displaying any emotion.

It seemed the two of them were in samadi when the pooja ended. They were an ideal couple who crushed and conquered the natural physical leanings. "Have you come to drag me into the mine of sinful life?" was what he asked when she came to him. "Why should I?" replied Sarada. "I have come to be of support to you in your spiritual journey." Together they went on their spiritual journey finding bliss in the service to fellow human beings.

Knowing Shyama Sundari's disappointment at not having a grand child, Guru Maharaj told, Sarada, "Very soon children all over the world will call you mother. You will be mother to all, even if you do not have a child of your own." And so this Holy Mother became the Universal Mother. Many people affected in life in some way or other sought refuge at her little Nahabat, a small room close to Guru Dev's residence.

They went to her for solace. She was beyond caste, creed or religion. She treated all alike. She showed concern for each and everyone who went to her with one problem or other. Once, a woman who was of a dubious character, was not allowed to go to her by one of her ardent devotees. She waved him aside saying, "If one of my children falls into a muddy ditch will I not take him, clean him and keep him in my lap?" Such was her love and compassion that have no parallel.

There were many incidents in her life to show that she was no ordinary human being. There was the intervention of divinity throughout her life. People who hardly knew her would gaze into her face in wonder - for there they say was their own mother.

Kali's face

Yet some others have seen Kali's face in her. Once when she was travelling, she was confronted by a dacoit and his wife. Sarada had no fear because her heart was filled with love. With the purity of innocence, she addressed them as father and mother. They were completely taken aback. They shed their fierce nature and with equal affection considered her as their daughter and escorted her to her destination. It seemed later the dacoit had confessed that in her face he saw Kali herself. That is quite possible given that she is an incarnation of Goddess Kali herself.

Guru Dev always made Sarada feel she was the mother of all beings and in the course of time she also accepted the situation and her heart was full of the love of a mother for her child. During her last days, she said, "for those who have come, for those who have not come, for those who will come in the future, I am the mother of all." Her pure thought transcends the ethereal world. What more proof to show she is an incarnation of Mother Goddess herself? "Whoever calls me mother is my child," said the Holy Mother on another occasion.

Even Westerners regarded her with deep love and respect and piety. Sister Nivethitha awed by her purity, dignity and honour, her strong mind and large heart remarked, "Is she the last of an old order or the beginning of a new?"

She was not educated in the strictest sense of the word but Guru Dev's influence on her had a positive impact on her thoughts and words.

This together with her spirituality led her to a state of bliss, and blissful oblivion. At that stage only God remained in her thought and nothing else. She realised the truth through Guru Dev. Her words are gems of wisdom suitable for all ages and all stages.

"If you want peace of mind, do not look for faults in others. Rather find out your own fault. Nobody is a stranger my child, the whole world is stranger my child, the whole world is yours." Meditating on her words of wisdom itself will give one inner peace and happiness. Sri Ramakrishna said of her, "She is my Saraswathi who has come to bestow knowledge to all." There is nothing but pure love for all and sundry.

True significance

When Swami Vivekananda kept the Hindu flag swaying high in America, he wrote to Swami Shivananda in 1894, "You have not realised the wonderful significance of Mother's life. Without Shakthi there is no regeneration, for the world." He felt that in India, Shakthi was held in dishonour which is even today an unfortunate fact. According to Swamiji, Mother has been born to revive that wonderful Shakthi in India. Quite true, incidents in the Mother's life have proved it without doubt.

An account of the Holy Mother's birth and bearing, her gentle might and mien cannot be said in a few words. It is like draining the sea into a small channel. Her sayings sum up the wonder woman she was. These words of our Holy Mother Sarada Devi shed more light on the divine mother and what a realised saint she is.

Always discriminate. Try to realise that the outside object which is attracting your mind is impermanent, and turn your attention to God.

While performing Japa, take the name of God with the utmost love, sincerity and self surrender.

The mantra purifies the body, man becomes pure by repeating the name of God. So repeat his name always.

The Lord has given the fingers. Make the best use of them by counting His mantra.

Past sins are counteracted by meditation, Japa and spiritual thoughts.

Call on the Lord who pervades the entire universe. He will shower His blessings upon you.

One never finds Him without love and devotion.

God alone is true. Everything else is false.

The goal in life is to realise God and to be always immersed in His thought.

Most blessed Mother, Praised be thy name!

Ad Majorem Dei glorium - for the greater glory of God!

- Thilaka.V. Wijeyaratnam


The essential fast

By Shezna Shums and Jamila Najmuddin 

Muslims worldwide commemorate the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan. With fasting now observed in each and every Muslim household for a period of approximately 30 days, fasting, as stated in the Muslim holy book, the Qur'an, "is prescribed to all Muslims, as it was prescribed to those before them."

Muslims around the world, throughout this holy month, will sacrifice eating and drinking from dawn to dusk, offer charity and take part in special prayers. Ramadan, as the holy books mention is the commemoration of a month of sacrifice as well as joyous celebrations that follow thereafter.

Preparations

"We began preparing for the holy month of Ramadan several weeks ahead. During this month even my children fast from dawn to dusk. Ramadan is the holiest month in the Islamic calendar," said Mohammed Salim.

Ifthaar time is a sight not to be missed. Ifthaar is the breaking of the fast in the evening where Muslims follow a tradition of eating dates. "We usually break the fast by eating dates. A healthy meal is then followed with the intake of fresh juices so that we are healthy to fast the following day," Salim said.

It is also said that fasting is the only worship in which Allah has said that He himself is the reward for it. This means that one develops a bond with the almighty that Allah himself becomes the helper.

Abu Hurairah relates that the Holy Prophet, (peace be upon him), said: "Allah, the lord of honour and glory says: All other deeds of man are for himself but his fasting is purely for me and I shall reward him for it.The fast is a shield. When any of you is fasting he should abstain from lose talk and noisy exchanges. Should anyone revile him or seek to pick a quarrel with him, he should respond with: I am observing a fast. By him in whose hands is the life of Muhammad, the breath of one who is fasting is purer in the sight of Allah than the fragrance of musk. One who fasts experiences two joys: he is joyful when he breaks his fast, and he is joyful by virtue of his fast when he meets his Lord."

Fasting is an important and significant part of the Islamic life as it is one of the distinctive features of the Muslim community and is one of the five pillars of Islam. The other pillars of Islam are testifying there is no God but Allah and Muhammad (SAL) is the messenger of Allah, giving Zakat (charity), performing Hajj and performing one's daily prayers.

Fasting is required for Muslims both female and male who have reached puberty, are sane, healthy and are capable of bearing the fast.

However, there are also those who are not obliged to fast and they are children, a person who is sick or insane, who is travelling a long distance, a woman who is menstruating or a mother who is breast feeding a child.

New moon

The month of fasting also begins at the sighting of the new moon either by a respected person or when a holy institution establishes the sighting.

One of the main conditions that Muslims have to practice when observing a fast is having the true intention to fast, which means that he/she has to refrain from eating or drinking which will break the fast.

Some of the recommended measures while fasting is that a predawn meal is taken even if it is drinking a glass of water while when breaking the fast, Muslims should break the fast with dates and water.

Some traits that should be encouraged are to give charity and spend time in spiritual retreat. However, things that should be avoided when one is fasting are lying, using foul language and avoiding blood donation as this could weaken a person. And if a person misses some days he or she is recommended to make up those missed days at a later date.

The month of Ramadan is indeed a time when spiritual retreat should be encouraged and one such time is during Laylat-Al-Qadr (Night of divine decree) - this is a holy night which could fall on any odd date during the last 10 days of Ramadan.

A person should spend time in the mosque and read the Qur'an during the night and also attend to special prayers.

It is also during the month of fasting that Muslims should give Zakat. This is an amount of 2.5 percent of ones assets. This charity should be given to a number of categories and to mention a few - the poor, family members who are in great need of assistance but cannot ask directly for money and travellers who are in need of money.


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