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A Time to Give and Share.

Summary: A friend in New York recently asked me what Ramadan was like. Borrowing a chapter from my 3-year-old sonAEs playbook, I tried to explain it in constructs that would be familiar to her.

I asked her to imagine a traditional American Thanksgiving with all her extended family present, where they fasted from dawn until dusk (while experiencing caffeine withdrawal and nicotine fits), before breaking the fast with the evening iftar meal. Then I told her to imagine that Thanksgiving went on for an entire month. <p>oYou poor thing!o she gasped.

oWhy do you think we celebrate when itAEs over?o I replied with a grin.

In fact, Ramadan is about more than just fasting. It is the ninth month of the Arab lunar calendar, and the most holy month of the year for Muslims because the Archangel Gabriel revealed the holy QurAEanuthe ultimate giftuto the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, on its 27 th day. As such, I explained to my friend that Ramadan is a season of giving and one of the five pillars of Islam is almsgiving, or zakat.

The holy QurAEan speaks repeatedly of zakat, commanding in one instance that ofor every 40 camels, one is to be given to the poor.o

My friend laughed, saying, oIn this economy, who has an extra camel to give?o Aa I replied that zakat was spoken of in metaphorical terms and many believe, as I do, that the payment of zakat can go beyond camels and money to the most valuable asset of all: time.

And no matter how difficult our financial lives, we can all give of our time.

Like most Arabs, I grew up in an extended family. There was always someone in the family who was an expert on something and willing to give of their time to share that knowledge.

But as we grow up, we move out and we seek mentors who do not share our blood, though they do share our passions. Mentoring relationships can be the most powerful relationships of all.

When the holy QurAEan was first revealed to the Prophet, he was so overwhelmed by the call from God that he turned to his mentor, his wifeAEs uncle, for advice and guidance. Even prophets need mentors.

Last month, I lost a great mentor to a tumour. This article will come to you after being edited (and debated) by another. A third has guided my foray into media from behind the scenes. What these three have in common is that they have given me time and access to their cumulative wisdom. And they have done it without asking for anything in return. In this sense, they follow the spirit of zakat to the letter. One is a Muslim, one a Catholic and the third a Jew. All three give more than one-fortieth of their time to mentoring. Without their combined efforts my life would be very different.

My son Rayan is named for a gate in heaven through which those who fast during the month of Ramadan will enter. A few days ago, I was in my writing room and wiping away tears as I wrote a farewell to my late mentor.

Rayan came to the doorway saying that he had left his Scooby Doo toy in his playhouse and could I retrieve it with him? I gave him my sternest look, the one that says, interrupt-me-at-the-peril-of-losing-your-thumbs. He went off with disappointment.

Minutes later he managed to bring himself down to my level. oBaba, I need to go to the office in my house. I have to get my work. Will you help me?o

We were soon climbing the ladder to his oofficeo with both his thumbs intact. One day, he will give his mentors a run for their 36 minutes.

Naif Al Mutawa is creator of THE 99, a group of superheroes based on Islamic archetypes, and a 2009 recipient of the Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award at the World Economic Forum. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service

Copyright 2009 Khaleej Times. All Rights Reserved.

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Publication:Khaleej Times (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
Date:Sep 11, 2009
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