By: Abdul Ghaffar
“Ramadhan is the month in which was sent down the Qur’an, as a guide to mankind, also clear signs for guidance and judgment between right and wrong. So every one of you who is present at his home during that month should spend it in fasting, but, if anyone is ill, or on a journey, the prescribed period should be made up by days later. God intends every facility for you; He does not want to put you to difficulties. He wants you to complete the prescribed period and to glorify Him in that He has guided you; and perchance ye shall be grateful”
(Holy Qur’an 2:185).
Once again we welcome it, once again it welcomes us. Ramadhan-a month of obligatory daily fasting in Islam is the ninth in the Islamic lunar calendar. For the entire month, Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, an act that brings joy and contentment to every Muslim who experiences the practice. But fasting as such is a human phenomenon, which is noticeable in all religions. Allah says in Qur’an:
”O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may become pious” (Holy Quran 2:183).
Ramadhan is not only to abstain from food, drink, smoking, and marital sex (up to sunset) but also to abstain from arguing, lying, backbiting, cursing, fighting, obscenity and all kinds of immoral acts. This is a month of return, introspection, mediation, brotherhood and love. This month provides an opportunity for the creature (Human) to get closer to his Creator (God). This is a month of when a Muslim tries to: see not what displeases God, speak no evil, hear no evil, do no evil, look to God with fear and hope. Ramadhan is supposed to be a time of giving and giving up, a time to feel closer-physically closer by fasting-to the tribulations and hunger that the poor feel all the year. It is a time to deny oneself, for one’s own good and the good of others. It is a time of deeper prayer and reflection.
The Prophet Mohammad (blessings and peace be upon him) said,
“If, during Ramadhan, someone does not refrain from backbiting, lying, slandering, arguing, or fighting with someone, the Allah is not interested in his keeping himself hungry and thirsty. And be certain that a Muslim is one from whose hand and tongue other people are safe (Hakim 2003).
And he further said, “there are many a Muslim man or woman who obtains nothing from Ramadhan except an empty belly and a dry mouth” (Hakim 2003), meaning the whole point of fasting was missed. In other words, there is a great difference between fasting and merely keeping oneself hungry- something essential to understand.
A Meaning of this Month
The month of Ramadhan is the ‘month of the Meaning.’ It is a quest for finding a meaning in our own self and the world. Why this life? What about God in my life? What about my mother and my father, still alive or already gone? What about my children? My family? My community? Why this universe and this humanity? What meaning have I given to my daily life? What meaning am I able to be consistent with?
The Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him) had warned, ‘Some people only gain from their fast the fact that they are hungry and thirsty.’ He was speaking of those who fast as mechanically as they eat. They deprive themselves from eating with the same unawareness and the same thoughtlessness as they are used to eating and drinking. In fact, they transform it into a cultural tradition, a fashionable celebration, even a month of banquets and ‘Ramadhan nights.’ This is fast of extreme alienation and counter-meaning. As this month invites us towards the deep horizons of introspection and meaning, it reminds us of the importance of detail, precision and discipline in our practice. The precise starting day of Ramadhan that must be rigorously found; the precise hour before dawn on which one must stop eating; the prayers to be performed ‘at determined moments,’ the exact time of breaking the fast. At the very time of our profound meditation with God and in our own self, one could have thought that it was possible to immerse oneself into one’s feelings because this quest for meaning is so deep that it should be allowed to bypass the details of rules and schedules. But the actual experience of Ramadhan teaches us the opposite: no profound spirituality, no true quest of meaning without discipline and rigor as to the management of rules to be respected and time to be mastered.
An Invitation to Self-Transformation
The abrupt change implied by the fast is an invitation to a transformation and a profound reform of oneself and one’s life that can only occur through a rigorous intellectual introspection (muhasaba). To achieve the ultimate goal of the fast our faith requires a demanding, lucid, sincere, and honest mind capable of sane self-criticism. Everyone should be able to that for oneself, before God, within one’s solitude. The month of Ramadhan calls Muslim to their dignity as well as to their responsibilities. It is imperative that they make it a rule for themselves to be rigorous and upright in the assessment of their conduct, individuality and collectively: self-criticism and collective introspection are of the essence at every step, to achieve a true transformation within Muslim communities and societies.
Instead of blaming ‘those who dominate,’ ‘the other,’ ‘the West,’ etc. it is necessary to make ourselves follow the teaching of the month of Ramadhan: you are indeed what you do of yourself. What are we doing of ourselves today? What are our contributions within the fields of education, social justice and liberty? What are we doing to promote the dignity of women and children or to protect the rights of the poor and marginalized people in our societies?
What kind of models of profound, intelligent and active spirituality do we offer today to the people around us? What have we done with our universal message of justice and peace? What have we done our message of individual responsibility, of human brotherhood and love? All these questions are in our hearts and minds and there is only one response inspired by the Qur’an and nurtured by the month of Ramadhan: God will change nothing for the good if you change nothing. The objective of Ramadhan is to attain Taqwa.
“O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may attain Taqwa” (Holy Qur’an 2:183).
What is Taqwa?
Hazrat ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab (may Allah be pleased with him) said, “A person with the quality of Taqwa is like a person walking withn caution on a thorny road. The way he would take care to save his clothes from getting entangled in the thorns, so is a person with Taqwa conscious of every action he does (for fear of falling into wrong)” (IECRC 2005).
Taqwa is a way of living where God is always invoked and on one’s mind where one thinks twice before doing any wrong because one knows that He is watching, though no one else may be in sight; and where one develops such a strong will-power that acts of goodness flow from one’s hands as second-nature impulses, where the overflowing of hearts is greater than the deliberation and rationalization of intellects. The Prophet Mohammad (blessings and peace be upon him), it is said, was usually very generous and in Ramadhan was “more generous than the blowing wind,” a common Arab saying.
Ramadhan, in this sense, helps to develop character traits such as patience, gratitude, contentment, humility, generosity, heightened consciousness, purity, and other qualities. By the end of Ramadhan, a Muslims should be a better human, and that much closer to what is possible of human production, if such a thing can be imagined. Suffice it to say that Ramadhan is meant to train one to realize that ideal in one’s day-to-day life.
It is not a time to get fat and sleep the day away. That is a travesty of the spirit of the Holy Month.
Here are a few suggestions that we can look into:
Let us invite our friends and neighbours to join us in the breaking of our fasts (Iftar).
Let us donate generously to the Masjid, Islamic causes, worthy causes and everywhere people are in need. ‘This is a month of sharing!’
Let us initiate a project to promote or revive a ‘forgotten’ social cause in the community: fight against communalism, racism, social evils, obscenity, drugs, smoking…etc.
Let us seek the rare and oft-neglected rewards of ‘the night better than a thousand months,’ Laylatur-Qadr.
Let us weep in private for the forgiveness of our sins: It is the month of forgiveness and Allah’s Mercy! It’s never too late.
Let us learn to control our tongue and lower our gaze. Remember the Prophet’s warning that lying, backbiting, and a lustful gaze all violate the fast! Abandon foul language forever.
Let us experience the joy of Tahajjud prayers late at night and devote ourselves purely and fully to Allah in the I’tikaf retreat during the last 10 days of Ramadhan.
Let us encourage our younger ones to offer taraweeh prayers with us at the mosque.
Let us ensure that we mend our relations with everyone regardless of the mistakes on the part of others.
Let us ensure that we offer Zakat ul Fitr ahead of Eid prayers so that the poor and the needy can make use of it in an appropriate manner.
Each of us can develop an individual plan to benefit from and we all can do something to earn some additional grace from God, the Almighty. May this Ramadhan be a time of true fasting, of deeper prayer and real identity with the poor whose plight will not change when the day of Eid comes. To conclude, the Prophet Mohammad (blessings and peace be upon him) reported whoever fasts in Ramadhan with faith and seeking pleasure of Allah, his past sins are forgiven.
Abdul Ghaffar is a researcher in Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi and have presented and published many articles on national and international issues including about Manipur in national journals.