Reflections on Ramadan
By Ibrahim B. Syed, Ph.D
In the name of Allah the most Beneficent, the Most Merciful :"O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you,As it was prescribed To those before you,That ye may (learn) Self -restraint (Fasting) for a fixed Number of days;But if any of you is ill, Or on a journey, The prescribed number (Should be made up) From days later, For those who can do it (With hardship), is a ransom, The feeding of one That is indigent.But he that will give More, of his own free will It is better for him.And it is better for you That ye fast .If ye only knew." (Surah 2: Al Baqarah, 183-184)
Islam proceeded step by step and by degrees in the imposition of most of its obligatory duties and Fasting was no exception. The Noble Prophet (sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) advised Muslims to observe fasts for three days in a month but this was not obligatory. Then in the second year of Hijra, the Command(2:183) about fasting in the month of Ramadan was revealed. Verse 185 in Surah Al Baqarah was revealed next year. The first Commandment about fasting contained in verses. 183-184 was revealed in the second year of Hijrah before the battle of Badr. The subsequent verse which superseded it was revealed a year later but was inserted here because it dealt with the same matter.
Siyam or Fasting during the month of Ramadan is Third Pillar of Islam. Muslims wait all year long for the arrival of this month of Ramadan. Fasting means that from dawn until sunset eating, drinking and sexual intercourse are forbidden. Ramadan is the month of patience. A person who is ready to be patient, not to eat while he is hungry, not to drink while he is thirsty, not to lean to his lusts, such a person is a noble individual. Such a person will be given paradise by God as a gift, as a merit of award.
To train yourself to abstain from the essentials of life is not an easy act. It needs a strong personality to dictate self-control, self-discipline and self-restraint. Fasting develops self-control and helps Muslims overcome selfishness, greed, laziness and other faults. It is an annual training program to refresh us for carrying out our duties towards Allah. A person who can restrain himself, for the love and pleasure of Allah, deserves a reward from the Creator Himself. The hardship of fasting brings the glad tidings that the fasting undertaken for the sole purpose of pleasing Allah is sure to be accepted by the Most Merciful Lord.
Fast in which the spirit of Fasting is not observed is only an exercise in starvation but not really a Fast at all. The prophet (sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) said whosoever does not give up telling lies, or acting in a false manner, Allah has no need for his giving up his eating or drinking.
The basic purpose of Fasting is to suffuse us with the quality of taqwa. The term taqwa implies fear and precaution and in Islamic terminology it means fear of God or God Consciousness and avoidance of disobedience to Him. Literally, taqwa means: Godliness, devotees or piety. According to the scientific meaning, it signifies a screen between two things. Thus, if the servant submits himself to Allahs will by carrying out all obligatory duties with which he has been commanded and abstains from that which Allah has prohibited, then his obedient actions have placed a screen between himself and Allahs punishment. That is called taqwa.
In our life journey we face innumerable temptations and we must shun them and stick scrupulously to the path of righteousness and truth- that is what constitutes taqwa, and for generating this taqwa. Taqwa is attained through knowledge which is coupled with true faith (iman). If we do not possess knowledge, we cannot really show piety. To obey the commands of Allah and to carry out His laws constitutes taqwa. Fasting has been made obligatory on us. We are made conscious about the needs and deprivation of those who are more in need than ourselves. This heightening of ones sense of sacrifice is the opposite of selfishness and of a desire to exploit or oppress someone for the sake of gain. Allah does not need our hunger, but fasting helps us to develop and refine our reflex about right and wrong, our sense of love and gratitude. Ramadan teaches us how to control our animal passions, how to bring them under discipline. The end result is manifestation of a human personality that loves Allah and loves His creation, that fears none but Allah, that draws all its strength from God and God alone.
Ramadan is also the month of the Quran, the month in which the Quran was revealed. The moral and spiritual climate of Ramadan helps the flourishing of the Quranic message which the ambiance is of goodness, humility, righteousness, love for good and aversion for evil.
Benefits of Siyaam
Besides the feeling of hunger and thirst, fasting teaches us to control the love of comfort. It helps us to keep our sexual desires within control. Siyaam builds and nourishes the soul of the fasting Muslim. The fasting person enriches his fasting by the remembrance of God, the recitation of the Quran, the night prayers, Zakah, Sadaqah (charity), and by refraining from sins and obscenity. The fasting person lowers his gaze and suppresses his desires. He guards his tongue from vain talk and obscenities. He guards his hands and legs from the prohibitions of Allah. He employs his hands and legs in the good and various deeds. Siyaam is not the mere refraining from eating and drinking, it is also refraining from vanity and obscenity. Siyaam builds a strong will and nourishes the truthful zeal in the soul. This is achieved when the fasting person struggles to work for his livelihood and resists his desires and temptations. Siyaam builds the strength to bear difficulties and hardship and instills the character of perseverance. The fasting person by depriving himself from food and drink, and other necessities of life becomes capable of controlling his desires, capricious whims, and temptations. The purpose of fasting is to enable a Muslim to control his passions, so that he becomes a person of good deeds and intentions. If one fasts from dawn to sunset, but continues to be abusive to ones spouse and children, tell lies, swears wrongly under oath, commits zina (fornication), cheats ones children by not giving them what is duly theirs of nafaqah in the form of care and love and indulges in other wrongful acts, then the objective of fasting has not been achieved. Anger, a common human weakness, can also be brought under control by fasting. A Muslim should keep away from all bad actions during his fast. He should not lie, break a promise or do any deceitful act. Fasting in Ramadan helps one to develop good habits and suppress or eliminate bad habits such as smoking, drinking coffee, tea, etc. One can avoid or cut down on excessive consumption of food.
A fasting person has feelings of sympathy for the poor. The sense of compassion springs from the feeling of pain. Fasting is a practical means to develop compassion for other peoples sufferings. The Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) himself was very generous during Ramadan.
Ramadan instills unity and equality among all the members of the Muslim ummah. The Muslims fast during the same month, perform qiyaam al lail during the nights of this month and all seek the night of Qadr. They offer zakat-ul-fitr at the end of the month and celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr together. By doing this together during this month of Ramadan, the ummah becomes like one body living in harmony. The fasting person is alert and cautious not to fall into something that might spoil his or her fasting or seek the wrath of Allah.
Fasting elevates the person from the material life to a higher spiritual life and helps him or her to approach a spiritual level that of angels who worship God day and night without tiredness.
Fasting builds important Islamic values, such as compassion, cooperation, diligence, firmness, affection, fear of Allah, trust in Allah, and many other qualities. Fasting establishes equality among the rich and the poor. It is a compulsory experience of poverty in that it makes all people share an quality, of feeling and to sympathize with one another through a collective sense of pain. Fasting Muslims can really sympathize with the starving people everywhere in the world and see the hardship that they go through every day of their lives. This compassion increases the practical aspect of the unity of Muslims and will reduce the idea of nationality and geographical identity. God is pleased with his servants and answers the duaa of the fasting person, when he supplicates to Him.
During the month of Ramadan, one should visit and offer prayers more frequently in the local mosques. Ramadan is a special time for visiting friends and family and sharing meals with the less fortunate.
The Prophet (sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) said, O people! The month of Ramadan has come with His mercy, blessing and forgiveness. God has decreed this month the best of all months. Its days are the best among days, its nights best among nights, and its hours best among hours. This is a month in which you have been invited by Him to fast and pray. Allah has honored you in it. Every breath you take in this month has the reward of praise of Allah. Your sleep in worship, your good deeds are accepted and your invocations answered.
Therefore you must invoke your Lord in earnest, with hearts that are free from sin and evil, and pray that Allah helps you fast, and recite the Quran. Give alms to the poor and the needy. Pay respect to your elders, have sympathy for your youngsters and be kind toward your relatives and kinsfolk. Guard your tongue against unworthy words, and your eyes from scenes that are not worth seeing and your ears from sounds that should not be heard. Understand well that God has promised in the Name of His Majesty and Honor that He will not take to task such people who perform Salaat and Sajda and that He will guard their bodies against the fire of hell on the Day of Judgment.
O people! If anyone among you arranges Iftar for any believer, then Allah will reward him and forgive him his previous sins. (A companion of the prophet (sallallahu alaiyhi wassallam) asked: But not everyone among us have the means to do so. The prophet replied: Do it even if it be with half a date or some water if you have nothing else.)
O people! Anyone who cultivates in this month good manners will walk over the bridge leading to paradise on the day when feet will tend to slip. Anyone who treats his kinsfolk well in it, Allah will bestow His mercy on him on the Day of Judgment while anyone who mistreats his kinsfolk, Allah will keep him away from His mercy. Whoever recites a verse of the Quran in this month, his reward will be that of reciting the whole Quran in other months.
O people! The gates of paradise remain open in this month: pray to your Lord that they may not be closed for you. The gates of hell are closed during this month: pray that they may never be opened for you. Satan has been handcuffed: invoke your Lord not to let him dominate you.
May Allah make us become kinder people, better neighbors and set good examples of the teachings of Islam which we present. Ameen!
Preparation of Ramadhaan
AS THE GRAND MONTH APPROACHED, EVEN BEFORE THE CRESCENT COULD BE SIGHTED, Nabee (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) gathered the Sahaabah( radhiyallahu anhum )on the last day of Sha'baan and according to the narration of Salmaan Faarsi( radhiyallahu anhu) addressed them thus: "O people, there comes upon you now a great month, a most blessed month, in which lies a night greater in worth than a thousand months. It is a month in which Allah has made fasting incumbent during the day while farad-week salaah at night is Sunnah. Whoever tries to draw nearer to Allah by performing any virtuous deed will be given the reward of an obligatory act per formed at times other than Ramadhaan. And whoever performs a fardh (obligatory act), will receive the reward of seventy faraaidh (plural of fardh) performed at other times. It is indeed a month of patience and the reward for patience is jannah."'
While this is the kind of preparation Nabee (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) exhibited, we begin to stock our refrigerators with all kinds of food which we normally do not partake of during the other months of the year. Although it is totally permissible to purchase food and other items, it is not the kind of preparation that is required of a true Believer. Ramadhaan is a month of spiritual cleansing and devotion - freeing oneself from mundane secular affairs and devoting the maximum time for the Worship of Allah in the form of the recitation of the Qur'aan, zikr and optional Salaah. It is that time of the year when ones batteries of Imaan' would be charged to a peak. As the Hadeeth of Salmaan (radhiyallahu anhu) exhorts us to perform the following four acts
a) Recite the Kalimah Shahaadah profusely,
b) Seek forgiveness for one's sins,
c) Implore Allah for entry into Jannah,
d) Seek refuge from the Fire of Hell.
The ideal situation would be to free oneself completely from all secular matters and devote the entire month for Deen. The most beneficial way of spending Ramadhaan would be in the company of a pious saint or going out in the Path of Allah. Those who cannot free themselves completely could nevertheless use every spare moment and draw up a daily programme. Mundane activities that can be totally given up should be avoided. If something can be postponed till after Ramadhaan, it should certainly be postponed. Many tasks can be scaled down while one's working hours could be adjusted. Closing the business earlier than usual can allow more time for the recitation of the Qur'aan, while a longer lunch-break can allow for more rest so that one is fresh for taraaweeh salaah at night. Remember that your sustenance is pre-ordained and by having fewer business hours, it will not decrease your income. In fact, by devoting more time for Deen, there will be more blessings in one's livelihood.
Muslim employers should make concessions for their Muslim staff during this month and encourage them to use that time for Deen. Their workloads should be decreased to whatever extent possible.
Besides engaging in various forms of worship, it is absolutely essential to refrain from all forms of sin and not to ruin one's fast. Idle chatter usually leads to backbiting and slander and should be totally avoided.
Approach Ramadhaan with the correct concept and preparation. Be physically and spiritually geared up for this auspicious month by reading books on the virtues of Ramadhaan to the whole family. It will certainly bring about the desired change.
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