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Islam and Spiritualism ( 1 Aug 2011, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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A Fast, Pray, Cleanse

By Sadia Dehlvi

Aug 01, 2011

As a child, I had always looked forward to the month of Ramzan. While the elders fasted, we woke up early to join them at sehri (the pre-dawn meal), treating it like an exciting “midnight feast”. To inculcate the practice of fasting, children were encouraged to observe ek daad ka roza (one-jaw fast), which meant eating carefully through the day from one side of the mouth. When one of us reached the age of 10 or 11, the first fast was accompanied by festivities. There was a roza kushai ceremony where friends and family were invited for iftaar, a tradition that is still observed in most Muslim families.

In my teenage years of quest and rebellion, I confess not looking forward to Ramzan as it meant adherence to a strict code of conduct. We were expected to fast, no music, no movies, no television and no parties. We were almost forced to engage in fast and ritual prayers. If for some reason we failed to observe the fast, we were asked to eat discreetly behind closed doors as per the prescribed etiquette. At the time of iftaar, we had to sit with the family, with heads covered and hands folded in supplication. Ramzan became a tedious set of rules.

However, on growing older and after understanding the spiritual relevance of the blessed month, I became deeply appreciative of this routine. I now enforce these rules on my teenage son so that he learns to treat Ramzan as an honoured guest, whose arrival we look forward to each year. After sighting of the Ramzan moon, I thank Allah for giving me the opportunity to live through another sacred month.

Muslims believe that Ramzan opens a window of opportunities to seek God’s forgiveness and mercy. The Quran says: “Ramzan is the month in which the Quran was sent down as a guide to mankind, also clear (Signs) and judgment (between right and wrong).” Another verse says, “O you who believe, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you so you may become righteous.”

Fasting is a legacy of the earlier prophets and their followers, forming a part of all major religions and mystic traditions. An important pillar of Islam, every Muslim is required to fast except those who are too young, too old, weak or sick. Those travelling are exempted, but they have to make up for the missed fasts at any other time of the year.

For centuries, Sufis and mystics have dwelt on the secrets of hunger as a means of attaining inner enlightenment. We often say “my tongue is parched” or “my stomach is growling with hunger”. The state of hunger increases the awareness of our bodies as being separate from the soul, which requires a different kind of spiritual nourishment.

Prophet Mohammad said, “the fast and the Quran are two intercessors on the Day of Judgment.’ The fast will say, ‘O lord, I prevented him from his food and desires.’ Those who read the Quran and pray in the nights of Ramzan, will say, ‘I prevented the reciter from sleeping at night, let me intercede for him.’ And their intercession will be accepted.”

In a famous Hadith Qudsi — the sayings of Allah as revealed through Archangel Gabriel to Prophet Mohammad and spoken by him, which are not part of the Quran — God says, “Fasting is Mine, and it is I who give reward for it. A man who gives up his sexual passion for Allah’s sake, his food and drink for My sake has two joys: a joy when he breaks his fast and a joy when he meets his Lord. The change in breath of his mouth is better in Allah’s estimation than the smell of musk.”

The idea behind this fast in Ramzan is to be mindful of one’s actions through the month, for fasting is of the eye, ear, tongue and all other senses. Fasting brings about a state of spiritual awareness. Because it is easy to cheat and eat or drink without anyone finding out, God says, “It is for Me alone” — for the one who fasts is constantly aware that even though he cannot see God, God is looking at him.

Harbouring suspicion, rancour or negative opinions about others is especially noxious in Ramzan. The same goes for all forms of cheating, vanity and irrational anger. Islamic scholars have said that in order to gain the most from Ramzan, one should not engage in excessive speech and be vigilant with the tongue. Ramzan is a time for inner reflection; to do an audit of the state of one’s inner being and make resolves to gain proximity to the Divine.

Sadia Dehlvi is a Delhi-based writer and author of Sufism:The Heart of Islam.

Source: Asian Age, New Delhi