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Archive for the category “ramadan & fasting”

Believing in the Ramadan Hope & Healing

beliefinramadanAs we approach the latter part of Ramadan, here are some reflections from the words of Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali, to spur us on to the fruits of Ramadan with renewed vigour. (Previous visits to Ramadan with Ibn Rajab can be read here and here):

1. Let us recall how the path to goodness has been facilitated for us in Ramadan. Ibn Rajab reminds us that: ‘The Devil has been shackled in Ramadan, the fires of passions quelled by fasting, the ego’s desires isolated, and authority has been turned over to the restraining intellect which rules justly. So the sinner, now, has no excuse. O clouds of heedlessness, disperse from over the heart! O rays of piety and faith, arise for this new dawn! O pages wherein righteous deeds are recorded, rise up! O hearts of those who fast, have reverent fear [of God]! O feet of the devoted strivers, prostrate to your Lord and bow down to Him! O eyes of those who spend their nights in prayer, sleep not! O sins of the repenters, return not!’1

2. While we do indeed worship a Generous Lord, we should not become complacent about the acceptance of our deeds. We must not take for granted that our fasts will be accepted. Instead, we should seek to eliminate the defects in our fasts, by seeking to improve our intention, sincerity, quality of our fasting and depth of devotion in them. ‘The pious predecessors (al-salaf al-salih),’ wrote Ibn Rajab, ‘would strive tenaciously to complete an action well and to perfect it. They would then be concerned if the act would be accepted, fearing it may be rejected. They were of those who give what they give while their hearts tremble. [23:60] It is related that ‘Ali said: “Be more concerned with your action’s acceptance than with the action itself. Have you not heard God, majestic is He, saying: God accepts only from those who fear Him. [5:27]” … One of the salaf declared: “They used to call upon God for six months that He allow them to reach Ramadan, then they would beseech Him for the next six months for Him to accept their deeds from them.”‘2

3. More than anything else, Ramadan is about hope and anticipating good. Ibn Rajab again: “The month, all of it, is a month of mercy, forgiveness and freedom [from the Fire]. This is why it says in an authentic hadith that the gates of mercy are flung open during it; and in a hadith in al-Tirmidhi and others: “Indeed, God frees [people] from the Hellfire every night [of Ramadan].”3 Be that as it may, the first part of [the month] is dominated by mercy – particularly to the God-fearing who act with excellence (li’l-muhsinin al-muttaqin). God, exalted is He, says: Surely, the mercy of God is near to those who act with excellence. [7:56] And: My mercy embraces all things, therefore I shall ordain it for those who fear [God] and pay the zakat. [7:156] At the month’s commencement there is an unbounded outpouring of mercy and good pleasure upon the God-fearing, whilst the people of excellence are treated with grace and eminence.

As for the middle of the month, forgiveness dominates it. During it, those who fast are forgiven, even if they are guiltily of committing some minor sins – for even that shall not bar them from being forgiven. In this respect, God, exalted is He, said: Truly your Lord is forgiving to people despite their evil-doing. [13:6]

As for the latter part of the month, those whose evil deeds and major sins would have necessitated residing in the Hellfire, are freed and liberated.’4

4. Those sinners who continue to lead wayward lives and neglect their duties to God, even in the blessed month of Ramadan, even they needn’t despair: ‘Just because God’s mercy has been specified for the doers of excellence, it doesn’t mean sinners should despair of receiving it. Just because forgiveness is ordained for the God-fearing, those who wrong themselves [through sinning] are not veiled from it … Say: “O my servants who have transgressed against their own souls! Do not despair of God’s mercy! For God forgives all sins.” [39:53] So, O sinner – and we are all sinners – let not your evil deeds make you despair of God’s mercy. How many like you have been liberated from the Fire during these days. So entertain a good opinion of your Protecting Lord and turn in repentance to Him. For no one is damned with God, save he who damns himself:

If sins pain you then take your medicine;
By raising your hands in the depth of the night.
Despair not of the Divine Mercy; for surely
Despair of it is worse than the sin itself.
His mercy to the doers of excellence is generosity;
While His mercy to the sinners is pure benevolence.’5

1. Lata’if al-Ma‘arif (Riyadh: Dar Ibn Khuzaymah, 2007), 380.

2. ibid., 474-5.

3. Al-Tirmidhi, Sunan, no.682.

4. Lata’if al-Ma‘arif, 479.

5. ibid., 481.

* This article was written for: www.islamicate.co.uk and is reposted here with kind permission.

Reality of the Ramadan Heat

Instatnt-dubai-1024_219050kIt’s been a scorcher! Having completed the first week of fasting in Ramadan, British Muslims have been enduring searing temperatures they never anticipated. No doubt, in some countries summer temperatures in excess of 30 degrees is regarded as mild or moderate. But here, given that we are a pretty much sun-starved nation, it’s a veritable heat wave! Along with the eighteen or so hours of fasting (or twenty hours, depending on what timetable is being utilised), the heat has made Ramadan quite a challenge this year. Yet amidst the suffocating heat, the heightened thirst and the increased fatigue, there are subtle blessing which come along with the Ramadan heat.

In our second visit to Ibn Rajab’s Lata’if al-Ma‘arif (the first may be read here), we find our pietist and hadith master discussing this very issues: fasting in the heat of summer and its attendant virtues. He writes:

‘Among those [deeds] whose rewards are multiplied during extreme heat is fasting, due to the thirst felt during the midday heat. Which is why Mu‘adh b. Jabal expressed regret on his deathbed that he would no longer be able to experience such thirst again at midday. Such was the case for others among the pious predecessors (salaf) too.

It has been reported that Abu Bakr al-Siddiq, may God be pleased with him, would fast during the summer, but not fast during winters.

Whilst on his deathbed, ‘Umar, may God be pleased with him, advised his son ‘Abd Allah, may God be pleased with him: “Cleave to the qualities of faith,” and the first of them he mentioned was fasting in the intense summer heat.

Al-Qasim b. Muhammad relates that ‘A’ishah, may God be pleased with her, would fast in the searing heat. It was asked of him: What made her do that: He said: “She would take advantage of [the days before] death.” … And one of the pious women [of the past] would choose the hottest days to fast. On being asked why, she replied: “If the price is cheap, then everyone would purchase it.” What she meant was that she wanted to do those deeds that very few people would be able to do, because of the huge difficulty involved. And this was from her lofty resolve (‘uluw al-himmah). 

Rawh b. Zinba‘ was travelling between Makkah and Madinah during an extremely hot day. A shepherd from the mountain approached him, so Rawh said: “O shepherd! Join me for some food.” He said that he was fasting. Rawh said: “Do you fast in such severe heat?” The shepherd replied: Should I let my days pass by in vein? So Rawh said: “You have utilised your days responsibly, O shepherd, whilst Rawh b. Zinba‘ has not.”

‘Ibn ‘Umar would fast optional fasts until he would almost faint. Yet still he would not break his fast. And Imam Ahmad would fast until he [too] would almost pass out; so he would wipe water over his face. He was asked about fasting in the extreme heat, so he responded: “There is no problem with wetting a towel and then squeeze water upon himself to cool himself. The Prophet, peace be upon him, was at al-‘Arj and he poured water over himself whilst fasting.”1

Abu’l-Darda would say: “Fast on the days that are very hot, in preparation for the heat of the Day of Resurrection. Pray two rak‘ahs in the darkness of night, in anticipation of the darkness in the grave.”

It is recorded in the Sahih; from Abu’l-Darda, who said: “You have seen us along with God’s Messenger, peace be upon him, on some of his travels in extremely hot weather, and a man would have to press his hand against his head due to the severe heat. And none of them would be fasting, save the Messenger of God and ‘Abd Allah b. Rawaha.” In the narration of Muslim, it states that this was during the month of Ramadan.2

When those who fast for God’s sake, in the heat, patiently endure the dehydration and intense thirst, God will single-out for them one of the gates of Paradise called Rayyan. Whoever enters through it, shall be given to drink; and whoever drinks, shall never again be thirsty. When they have entered through it, the gate shall be closed and none will enter through it except them.’3

In closing, I’d like to stress that the point of citing such reports is not to encourage irresponsibility or to suggest that we should burden ourselves with more than we can bear: the strong in body and health are not like the elderly, infirm or the chronically ill. Rather, the point was that since temperatures have soared, and we are fasting, that our resolves may be strengthened by recalling the immense reward which comes with the increased hardships of fasting on days of intense heat. As for the saintly men and women of the past who were mentioned above, then their resolves, calibre and quality of faith was something entirely different. They knew their levels, as we should know ours: Those are a people who have passed away. Theirs was what they did, and yours is what you do. And you will not be questioned about their actions. [2:134]

1. As per Malik, al-Muwatta, 1:194.

2. Al-Bukhari, no.1945; Muslim, no.1122.

3. Lata’if al-Ma‘arif (Riyadh: Dar Ibn Khuzaymah, 2007), 694-8, slightly abridged.

Ramadan: Becoming What We Were Born to Be

970952_378342775600795_2038395910_nToday sees the first day of Ramadan: the Muslim month of fasting (sawm). Observing the fasts of Ramadan unites Muslims the world over in common purpose and creates great social cohesion. But more than its social benefits, or benefits to the body (which is always a welcome side effect), Ramadan is principally designed to be spiritually and mentally transformative.

The whole point of fasting in Ramadan, the fourth pillar of Islam, is to foster a state of detachment from the world, as also from our ego and desires. This creates, as it were, a space in our souls for the remembrance of God and for awareness of His presence: O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed to those before you, that you may become mindful of God. [2:183]

Thus, that we become of those who are mindful of God and profoundly aware of Him (in Arabic, muttaqi) is, according to the Qur’an, what we were all created to be. And it is in accordance with such mindfulness that we have been called upon to mould our lives, actions and aspirations.

Ramadan, therefore, is that time of the year when our awareness of God sharpens and diligence to acts of devotion strengthen. Along with the five daily prayers and actually fasting, the main acts of devotion a believer engages in are: reading the Qur’an daily, aiming to complete it by the month’s end; becoming more charitable; seeking God’s forgiveness (istighfar) profusely; praying tarawih and night prayers; working to cleanse the heart from diseases like pride, vanity, ostentation, jealousy, greed and harbouring malice or ill will against others; empathising with the poor and learning to live for the poor; remembering God frequently; entreating God abundantly; guarding the tongue from lying, backbiting, slandering and gossiping; strengthening ties of relations; and being of greater service to others. It is through commitment to such acts that we start to become what we were born to be: muttaqi.

Ramadan: Time to Slide Out of the Rat Race

rat-race-meetingSome lovers of this fleeting life live their lives in the fast line; ever eager to keep their motor of materialism in top gear. Some are content to cruise the consumerist dream in third or fourth gear. Others only manage to dawdle through dunya’s distractions in second. But all such lovers are bitterly averse, to moseying along in first gear, let alone reverse.

For believers, Ramadan is that time of the year where we are reminded to ease off the accelerator and to responsibly slide out of the rat race – if not in body, then at least in mind and in spirit. Only by stepping outside of the frenzy can we realign our centres and reassess our true goals. Ramadan has all the social and spiritual technology built into it to allow us to do precisely that. (Even as I write, I have just received a text from a well-known business company asking me to remember just how amazing the world is and how I need to “Jump in” and “Embrace life”).

In Ramadan, I hope to post a few spiritual reminders touching on different facets of Ramadan, from the acclaimed jurist, hadith master and worldly renunciant (zahid), Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali. But for now, let us kick-off this series with the following words from him, which seek to arouse sleepers from their sins and slumber and energise and alert us to what we can do and become in the blessed month of Ramadan. Thus, in concluding his advice concerning the duties and spiritual attainments in the month of Sha‘ban, Ibn Rajab writes (in verse form):

‘O you who were not content to sin just in Rajab;
But disobeyed your Lord, even in Sha‘ban.
The fasting month has come now to shade you,
Turn it not into a month of sinfulness too.
Recite the Qur’an and glorify God, diligently;
For it is the month of glorification and Qur’an.
Deny bodily appetites, seeking salvation through it;
For soon bodies shall be consumed by the Fire.
How many you knew who fasted previously:
From among family, neighbours and brothers.
Death obliterated them, leaving you to live on;
How close are the the living to those who are dead.
You take pride in your Id clothes, cut to fit;
Yet the morrow they will be your burial shrouds!
Until when will man dwell in his place of dwelling?
Knowing his ultimate abode is the grave.’1

1. Lata’if al-Ma‘arif (Riyadh: Dar Ibn Khuzaymah, 2007), 351-2.

Ramadan: Reverence, Restraint & Responsibility

tarawih-understanding-the-words‘There’s only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving, and that’s your own self,’ said Aldous Huxley, the English novelist best known for his dystopian novel, Brave New World. In his exploration of the dilemmas confronting modern man (the rise of capitalism, the dehumanising demands of technological progress, and the cult of self-worship and instant gratification), Huxley hits on many truisms in his chilling forecasts to the modern world.

This month will see Muslims the world over observe the fasts of Ramadan. Ramadan is a month in which believers are required to buckle down more consciously so as to improve their own ‘corner of the universe.’

The month is marked by heightened religious observance and also a keener sense of social cohesion, and provides a powerful energy for self-transformation. As the month progresses, many Muslims, repentant for the ills and misdeeds of their past, resolving never to return to such ways again. Indeed, men, women and whole societies actively purify themselves during this month. This experience becomes, for many, the turning point of the year and, for some, their whole lives. Furthermore, Ramadan yields to the believer an array of timely lessons to help steer them through what is fast becoming a chaotic and volatile world. Let’s touch upon three such lessons:

1. Undoubtedly, Ramadan’s core lesson is learning to be more mindful and conscious of God, which relates to the sense of ta‘zim (“reverence” and “awe”) of Him. Ramadan is a call to renew our reverence of God by revering the Divine orders and respecting their limits (hudud). The regime of fasting sets certain limits which, though designed to facilitate our detachment from the dunya; the lower world, and from the nafs; the ego, it is ultimately about offering believers an opportunity to revere and remember God more fully and faithfully.

2. Another of Ramadan’s recurring lessons is that of restraint. By temporarily denying themselves instant gratification while fasting, Muslims are taught self-restraint. Here we confront Islam as counter-culture. For what could be more unmodern than to keep the cravings of the nafs in check. Modernity is about pandering to the nafs. “Free yourself”, “Be yourself”, “Indulge yourself”, is modernity’s holy trinity.

Our current climate is one where Muslims find themselves under constant scrutiny, criticism or attack. Hardly a day goes by, in the media or the world at large, without Islam being fair game. Yet for believers, the self-restraint exercised in Ramadan is the same restraint we must demonstrate in the face of all such provocations. The Qur’an asserts: You shall certainly hear much that is hurtful from those who were given the Book before you, and from the idolaters. But if you are patient and God-conscious, these are weighty factors in all affairs.[3:186]

3. Ramadan also teaches us responsibility, particularly to the world’s poor and hungry. For by the end of a day’s fast, Muslims usually experience some sensation of hunger. Thus we are awakened, in a most direct manner, to the plight of hundreds of millions of our fellow human beings who suffer hunger and starvation every day. This should compel us to extend to them our help and support. In a world filled with grotesque human inequalities, and soaked in the unholiness of poverty, we must each commit ourselves to eliminating this global injustice.

This year, as schools up and down the country wind-up the task of grounding pupils in the Three R’s (reading, writing and arithmetic), Ramadan offers its own Three R’s: reverence, restraint & responsibility. Internalising such lessons best prepares believers to engage the brave new world of the turbo-consumerist Monoculture and help bring about its much needed healing.

Wa bi’Llahi’l-tawfiq.

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