The Fast of Ramadan: Towards Spiritual Rejuvenation
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar and is characterised by Muslims fasting. The
Qur'an acknowledges that fasting; which is one of the pillars of Islam, has been an integral part of religious traditions through history
2:183]. Fasting is thus an institution commonly practiced by various religious communities particularly the People of the Book; for example, during Lent by Christians and on Yom Kippur by Jews.
Mode of Enhancement
Fasting in the Islamic tradition requires dawn till dusk abstention from food, drink and intimacy. It is, however far more than mere abstention from these necessities of daily living. To Muslims, fasting is a mode of enhancing self-discipline. It is an opportunity for regulating one's attitude and conduct, it serves as a protective shield; and is a means of attaining taqwa/piety, which the
Qur'an considers as the pinnacle of human development.
Unique expression of worship
Though prayer, pilgrimage and charity can be witnessed, fasting is a unique form of worship in that it not observable. Islam emphasizes this special institution of fasting as highly spiritual and moral discipline; both in motive and form. In motive, it requires purity of intention and honesty of purpose; and in form it demands abstention from engaging in any form of unlawful and improper behaviour. This degree of sincerity coupled with self-control is an expression of mastery over one's carnal self, so necessary in developing a better human being, focusing on the larger purpose of existence.
Moral & Spiritual Development
From ethical and moral perspectives, we should contemplate the higher purpose and the deeper meaning of our lives, trying to live meaningfully; balancing our physicality with our spirituality. Fasting promotes heightened level spiritual consciousness and spirituality has an internal as well as an external dimension. Internally, it refers to the purification of the self from the evils of bad intention, deceit, hypocrisy, selfishness, cowardice, arrogance, prejudice. Outwardly, it is manifested in one's positive attitude, good behaviour and noble character.
While fasting, we are far more aware of the hunger of the poor and the suffering of the oppressed and are therefore instructed to be more generous in this month. As a matter of fact, the feast of Eid-ul-Fitr, marking the end of the fast of Ramadan, cannot be celebrated unless those affording ones have disbursed the sadaqa-tul-fitr charity to the impoverished. This promotes attentiveness to social responsibility, interest in the welfare of society and inspires a continued spirit of generosity.
Muhasabah / critical self-evaluation
As Ramadan unfolds, it behoves each fasting person to open a page from the book of muhasabah (critical self-evaluation) and to reflect on what is being achieved through the month. What benefits are derived, which behaviours are adjusted, what good practices are adopted, which bad habits are being relinquished? How does the prayers and fasting of Ramadan influence attitudes and perspectives; how is it improving relationships with families, friends and neighbours; how much has it increased consciousness of responsibility towards the destitute; how is it impacting on the body, the heart, the mind and the soul. If there is a genuine effort towards the spiritualization of
one's being, the moralization of consciousness, empathy in attitude and goodness in conduct; then perchance a concerted effort is being made of treading on the pathway towards the objective of fasting
- the attainment of taqwa (piety).
The Qur'an refers to the fasting ones as sa'ihin/spiritual wayfarers. So, the journey of Ramadan motivates each person to perpetuate the positive spirit being imbibed and to continue on the spiritual journey towards fulfilment and excellence.
Shaykh Sadullah Khan is the Director of Impower Development