By: Mohd. Nasir Ahmed, Shillong- 793001 (nasir2kman[@]yahoo.com)
Ramadan- a general perspective
Ramadan (Sawm) is one of the five pillars of Islam and the ninth month of the Muslim calendar. The meaning of Sawm is to ‘abstain’. In this month, Allah Subhana Wa Taala (SWT) has made it compulsory that the fasting be observed by day, and he has made the ‘Taraweeh’ (Ramadan nightly prayer) a ‘Sunnah’. Fasting is to abstain from eating, drinking, smoking, saying, looking, listening bad things and conjugal relations from dawn till sunset. The goal of fasting is to develop self-restrain (Taqwa).
Ramadan is an annual training programme to refresh us for carrying out our duties towards Allah (SWT). Fasting develops self-control and helps us to overcome selfishness, greed, laziness and other faults. This month of patience gives us an opportunity to experience for ourselves what it is like to have an empty stomach. This develops our feeling for the poor and hungry people. Fasting teaches us to control the love of comfort.
If difficulty is experienced in fasting, one should bear it cheerfully and not complain. Should we feel fatigued at the time of Taraweeh (Ramadan nightly prayer), this too should be borne with fortitude. It should also be borne in mind that fasting does not aim at inflicting punishment upon people or taking on unbearable burdens. The underlying idea behind it is to teach moderation and spiritual discipline so that human temptations may not become so wild and uncontrollable as to flout the commands of the Great Master. To be a true servant of Allah (SWT), it is essential that man should be able to conform his behavior to the moral and spiritual discipline embodied in the Shari’ah of Islam. Fasting is indispensable for this moral and spiritual training. The Prophet (pbuh) said, “When the month of Ramadan starts, the gates of mercy are opened and the gates of Hell are locked and the devils are chained”. (Sahih Muslim, Book 006, Number 2361)
The hadith (sayings of prophet) below gives some very important points regarding Ramadan: The Prophet (pbuh) said “Fasting is a shield or protection from the fire and from committing sins. If one is fasting, he should avoid sexual relation with his wife and quarrelling, and if somebody should fight or quarrel with him, he should say, ‘I am fasting.’ There are two pleasures for the fasting person, one at the time of breaking his fast, and other at the time when he will meet Allah; then he will be pleased because of his fasting.” (Sahih Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 31, Number 128)
In this month, the rebellious ‘Shayateen’ (Satans) are chained, so as not to provoke those evils which they normally do during months other than Ramadan. A question may arise here that, when the ‘Shayateen’ are chained, how it is that we still do see evil committed? The reply is that evil may not necessarily be caused by the rebellious ‘Shayateen’. People have for eleven months lived in obedience to ‘Shayateen’ whims and wishes, and so performing evil deeds instigated by them becomes second nature. Consequently, evil is being done in and out of Ramadan. Therefore the feelings and lessons we experience should stay with us throughout the year. In Al-Qur’an, Muslims are commanded to fast so that they may “become pious”. This piety and devotion is especially felt during Ramadan, but we all must strive to make the feelings and attitude stay with us during our “normal” lives. That is the true goal and test of Ramadan.
Fasting is the way to piety and the fear of God. Fasting narrows the food and blood arteries. They are known to be canals of the devils, hence fasting reduces their insinuation. It further weakens carnal desires, thoughts and temptations of disobedience. Fasting enhances bodily health. It gets rid of contaminated matter, eases the stomach, purifies the blood, eases the working of the heart, brightens the spirit, refines the soul and disciplines the character. When an individual fasts, his soul is humbled and his carnal desires are dispelled. There is a great reward for fasting, as it shows a Muslim obeying Allah (SWT) and submitting to His command.
According Dr. Jack Goldstein author of the book “Triumph over Disease by Fasting and Natural Diet” says that “Fasting give vital organ a complete rest, promotes elimination of metabolic wastes, allows the body to adjust and normalize its bio-chemistry and also its secretion, lets the body break down and absorb swellings, deposits, diseased tissues, and abnormal growth; restores a youthful condition to cells and tissues, increases the power of digestion and assimilation and permits the conservation and re-routing of energy; it clears and strengthens the minds”.
Fasting in Ramadan is not merely physically restraining from the obvious food and drink, but the total commitment of the servant’s body and soul to the letter and spirit of fasting.
1) The fast of the self means to be free from all carnal desires.
2) The fast of mind is avoiding thoughts about things other than Allah (SWT).
3) The fast of the hand is not touching/taking what does not belong to it.
4) The fast of the nose means not sniffing or smelling unlawful things.
5) The fast of the feet is not going places where sinful acts are propagated.
6) The fast of the eye is to prevent it from seeing forbidden things.
Allah (SWT) says in Al-Qur’an, “Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and be mindful of their chastity; this will be most conducive to their purity. And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be mindful of their chastity, and not display their charms (in public) beyond what may (decently) be apparent thereof, hence let them draw their head-covering over their bosoms”. (Al-Qur’an 24:30-31)
7) The fast of the tongue is guarding against lying, backbiting, slandering, reviling, abusing others, cursing, indecent conversation, swearing and false evidence. The Prophet (pbuh) said: “A Muslim is he from whose tongue and hands other Muslims are safe”.
The Prophet (pbuh) said, “”Whoever does not give up forged speech and evil actions, Allah is not in need of his leaving his food and drink (i.e. Allah will not accept his fasting.)” (Sahih Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 31, Number 127)
8. The fast of the ears is not to listen to idle talk, gossip, lyrics and notes that contain obscene and indecent things. Listening to Al-Qur’an bears the fruit of faith, guidance, light and prosperity. It fills the heart with wisdom, tranquility, intimacy and contentment. It is a source of protection from the dangerous, deviant and sinful thoughts.