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Archive for the tag “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.

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: 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.

Prepare to Receive the Fragrance of Fasting

542993_10150820612213309_438620934_nAs the month of Ramadan fast approaches, and as Muslims the world over await its arrival in joyous anticipation, here is a short piece by Ibn al-Qayyim to help prepare its welcome. He says, while commenting on the following hadith:

‘God enjoins upon you the fast. Indeed, the likeness of that is as a man carrying a sack-full of musk in a crowd of people, all of them revelling in its fragrance. For the breath of someone fasting is more fragrant to God, exalted is He, than the smell of musk.’1

The Prophet uses the imagery of a person carrying a sack-full of musk hidden from view, under his clothes, after the habit of those who carry musk. Likewise, fasting is hidden from the eyes of people and unperceived by their senses. The fasting person’s limbs fast (abstain) from sins; his tongue fasts from lies, foul speech and false witness; his stomach fasts from food and drink; and his genitals fast from sexual union. If he speaks, he says nothing to violate his fast; and if he acts, he does nothing to spoil his fast. All his speech is salutary and wholesome, as are his deeds – just like fragrance one smells while sitting next to the bearer of musk. Anyone who sits with a fasting person benefits from his presence and is safe from false witness, lies, foul language and wrongdoing. This is the fast prescribed by the Sacred Law; it is not simply abstinence from eating or drinking.

Hence, one sound hadith has it: ‘Whoever does not refrain from speaking and acting falsely, or acting ignorantly, God does not need him to refrain from food  and drink.’2 In another hadith: ‘Perhaps a fasting person gains nothing from his fast except hunger and thirst.’3

True fasting, then, is when the limbs abstain from sin and the stomach from food and drink. As food and drink can break the fast or spoil it, so sins can cut off its rewards and spoil its fruits; as if one had not fasted at all.4

1. Al-Tirmidhi, no.2867; Ibn Hibban, no.1222. The hadith is sahih.

2. Al-Bukhari, no.1903.

3. Ibn Majah, no.1690; al-Bayhaqi, Shu‘ab al-Iman, no.3642.

4. Al-Wabil al-Sayyib (Beirut & Damascus: Maktabah Dar al-Bayan, 2006), 59-60.

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