'Blessed month': Fasting, taqwa, spiritual reflections
Υet another Ramadan has dawned on us. Piety reigns everywhere as Muslims all across the globe will fast for the entire month. It is the period for repentance, abnegation and spiritual discipline, besides abstaining from food and drinks for the whole day.
Several verses in the blessed Quran speak about fasting. Allah has commanded Muslims to fast in Ramadan to attain taqwa (God-consciousness). The verse "O you who believe! Fasting has been prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you that you may attain taqwa." (Surah al-Baqarah: 183) sums up that fasting in Ramadan is one of the five foundational pillars of Islam.
Fasting during Ramadan is obligatory for all Muslims (some exemptions are allowed). The key element of the holy month is to attain taqwa as Allah states in the blessed Quran, “Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is he who has most taqwa.” (Surah al-Hujurat:13). Little wonder the Quran mentions the word “taqwa” in 60 verses, and its derivatives are found in another about 190 locations.
A Muslim is required to safeguard the form and the spirit of fasting. The Prophet Muhammad explained: “There are many fasting people who do not earn from their fast anything except thirst, as there are devotees who do not get from their nocturnal prayers (Tahajjud) anything except vigil at night” (Surah al-Bukhari: 53).
Allah has offered us a golden opportunity to engage ourselves in worship, such as prayers and recitation of the Quran, remembrance and glorification of Allah, and do good deeds and keeping away from bad ones, and empathizing with and helping the needy and the poor.
The main achievement is that a man’s soul is liberated from the shackles of his wishes and desires and elevates toward the lofty summits of knowledge and intellect. He gets closer to the kingdom of Allah by rising above all everyday needs.
For this purpose, fasting restricts all such things, which cause an increase in our desires and incline us toward pleasure. When someone endures such constraints, he can break his bond with this world and come closer to his creator. It is this aspect of fasting because God says fasting is for him, and he alone will reward it.
The second achievement of fasting is that the doors of temptation and revolt are closed to a great extent. It is the tongue and the private parts on which the devil attacks the most. Therefore, the Prophet Muhammad said that whosoever could give him a guarantee of the two things: one between the two cheeks and the other between the two legs, would guarantee him paradise.
Fasting checks both these instincts and weakens all inclinations of going overboard with these two. It makes it easy for a person to do all things that are pleasing to Allah and refrain from those which are displeasing to him. It is this fact that the Prophet Muhammad has stated that Satan and his army are chained during Ramadan.
The third aspect a person gains from fasting is that his actual distinction – freedom of will – is given a great chance to develop and strengthen so that his character becomes adorned with resolve and determination. He gets disciplined enough to control all sorts of emotions and reactions rising in his self. If a person’s willpower is weak, he can neither control his wishes from exceeding the limits nor remain steadfast on the Shariah.
The fourth thing a person attains from fasting is that it teaches and strengthens the spirit of sacrifice and urges him to show compassion to less fortunate people. Experiencing hunger and thirst in a fast brings him closer to the poor and makes him realize their needs. Fasting affects everyone according to his disposition.
The fifth thing that a person achieves in Ramadan is that the solitude and isolation he has in this month inclines him to spend more time reciting the holy Quran with a view to understanding and practicing its teachings.
The social aspect of fasting during Ramadan is that the atmosphere is saturated with religious piety and devotion to Allah. There is one extra congregational prayer, Taraweeh, during the night, in which the holy Quran is recited, and the Muslim is reminded of the fact that it was in the month of Ramadan that the revelation of the sacred Quran commenced. The sadaqat are also given with greater zeal and enthusiasm this month. Thus the whole Muslim society is inspired by the love of Allah.
Abu Huraira said: “When Ramadan begins, the gates of Heaven are opened, the gates of hell are locked, and the devils are chained.”
This is the month of the holy Quran and Laylat al-Qadr, which is better than one thousand months. Allah chose this month and night to grace humanity with his final testament. The moment of this revelation became sacred, and that time and month became an eternal time for us. Allah chose this time and filled it with his countless blessings.
Spirit of giving
The spirit of giving and sacrifice forms an essential component of Ramadan. This is the month when we experience the pains of those who find it extremely difficult to meet their basic needs met. When we avoid food and drink, we understand what it means to be hungry and thirsty. Islam offers a solution to this by commanding the well-to-dos to pay a certain amount of money to the poor so that they can live a life of subsistence and dignity.
It is thus obligatory for every Muslim, male or female, who has money over a certain threshold. It is collected at specified rates, and its beneficiaries are clearly defined.
There is no better month than Ramadan for spiritual renewal, which Muslims try to achieve during it. The last 10 days of Ramadan have a special significance as it is most likely on one of these days that the Laylat al-Qadr, descends upon Muslims, promising Muslims bountiful rewards to those who spend time in ibadah and asking in humble supplication to Allah whatever they want.
Once again, we are blessed with the opportunity to engage in Itikaaf and reap the abundant blessings and spiritual rewards that come with it.
Ibn Umar, a revered companion of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad and the son of the second Caliph Umar, narrated that, “Allah’s Messenger used to observe Itikaaf in the mosque during the last 10 days of Ramadan.”