By Prof. Henry Francis B. Espiritu, New Age Islam
18 June, 2015
Almighty Allah declares in the Holy Qur’an (Surah Baqarah 2:183,184): “Oh you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may guard against evil… And when My servants ask you concerning Me, surely I am near. I answer the prayer of the supplicant when he calls on Me: so they should hear My call and believe in Me that they may walk in the right way”.
Praise be to our All-Merciful Allah, He has once again accorded us this rewarding opportunity to fulfil one of the most sublime fundamental principles in our Islamic faith: fasting on this holy month of Ramadan. I pray that all Muslims worldwide are in the best of health and in high spirits by the grace of Allahu Taala. I meekly supplicate to Him that all believers are spiritually and physically ready to seek Allah’s blessings by lovingly undertaking all acts of worship prescribed for this month; more especially in the sacred duty of fasting from dawn to sunset (Saum). The Holy Qur’an declares that one of the objectives of Ramadan fasting is to develop and strengthen the virtue of self-control, even in lawful (Halal) matters like partaking of food and drinks during daytime; so that we can resist the dictates of our evil dispositions, by making our spirits stronger through spiritual discipline; in this way, we will be able to sincerely worship Almighty Allah, winning His mercy and enabling us to experience divine nearness (Qurbatan Lillah) to Him.
The holy month of Ramadan is an auspicious time to be grateful to Allah for giving us another opportunity to observe fasting and gain the benefits from this spiritual exercise. In His divine wisdom, Allah, who is the Lord of both our bodies and spirits, prescribed a spiritual exercise specifically for our own benefit so that through this practice of fasting, we can gradually deny gratifications that are even lawful, such as eating and drinking from dawn to sundown, so our spirits will be strong to firmly deny all sinful and unlawful acts. Ramadan fasting is established by our Beloved Allah for our own good. He establishes fasting not out of caprice or of unreasonable whim. The Holy Qur’an clearly declares the very purpose of fasting during this holy month: “Oh you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may guard against evil…” (Surah Baqarah 2:183). From this holy verse, we can see that training our hearts, minds and souls to detest evil is the very purpose why our Beloved Allah prescribes fasting for us. Abstaining from drinking and eating and other carnal needs are simply training activities for us in our daily struggle against the evil of our self-gratification and our wanton appetites for sin and worldliness. Hazrat Prophet Muhammad (may the peace of Allah be upon him and his Companions) has clearly made this very important point that it is not hunger and thirst and our self-denial of food and drink that reaches Allah but what Allah is interested in, is the result of fasting within the devotee’s heart—i.e., the believer’s firmness in denying his evil-commanding self (“Nafs Ammarah”).
Surah Baqarah 2:185 is placed as foremost among the verses pertaining to our sacred obligation to fast during the blessed month of Ramadan. This verse contains important reminders from Almighty Allah concerning the significance of this month: “The month of Ramadan is the month when the Qur’an was revealed, guidance to all peoples, containing clear proofs and the Criterion. So whoever of you is present during this month, you shall fast in it... Allah desires ease for you, and He does not desire hardship for you, and He desires that you should complete the number of your fast and that you should exalt the greatness of Allah for having guided you, so that you may give thanks.”
Sufi saints of Sunni Islam always insist on this: that while doing fasting, it becomes mandatory for us to remember that the fast is not confined to our gustatory acts only. It is training in observance of abstinence of all parts of our body and senses that is prone to sin as the mark of our obedience to Allah so that He may be pleased with us. The reason why humans are being considered superior to all other creatures of Allah is the human capacity to control his bodily demands for a higher or lofty purpose. Sufi saints stress that the aim of life and all our acts of servitude to Allah is not just to avoid hell and earn paradise, for that would be very self-serving, very egotistical and very petty indeed! For Sufis, the very intention of all our acts of worship is to gain the love of Allah, in the words of Hazrat Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi (may Allah illumine his grave), to merit being called Allah’s “Wali” (friend) or His “Aashiq” (lover).
The Sufi saints of Sunni Islam reminds us not to be too legalistic to simply confine ourselves only to the external form and rules on fasting, but to transcend the external aspects of fasting by reflecting upon the very spirit and inward reality (Haqiqat) of fasting: that is, our Beloved Allah enjoined fasting for us so we can tame our self. For this essay, I will quote one example to exemplify this point. Externally, we deny the hold of the tongue’s appetite upon us when we fast—that is the external legal demand of fasting. But let us consider the tongue and how we can still utilize the tongue in sinning, so that even though we are not eating or drinking during holy Ramadan, we still commit various hurtful offenses against Almighty Allah and against our fellow humans. The tongue can be used wrongly for lying, slander, abuse, hurling insults, and worst of all backbiting and gossiping. The inner reality of fasting is therefore to deny the tongue its power to commit offenses against Allah and to avoid hurting our fellow humans. The tongue’s desired use would be for truth, for spreading the good news of love and harmony, for teaching respect for one-and-all, using our tongues to share words of kindness to everyone, and for spreading peace in the world. Frankly speaking, simply fasting on drinks and food but engaging our tongues in sinful and unkind words and deeds betray the very purpose of fasting as set-forth by our Beloved Allah, which is to train our spirit to fight evil coming from our “evil-commanding self” (Nafs Ammarah).
Ramadan was the month when the Holy Qur’an was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). The Holy Qur’an was revealed over a period of 23 years and that it was during this blessed month that our Holy Prophet began to receive Almighty Allah’s divine revelation (Wahiy-Ul-Llah). Our Beloved Creator tells us that the Holy Qur’an is guidance not only for the Muslims or believers but for humankind as a whole. It goes on to state that it has “clear proofs of Allah’s guidance” given to other prophets prior to the coming of our Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). In the Holy Qur’an, Surah Furqan 25:1, we are told that our Beloved Allah sent down the “Criterion” upon our Holy Prophet so that he might be the warner to all nations. The Holy Qur’an is called “Criterion (Mizan)” because of the distinction it makes between truth and falsehood, between right and wrong, between what is just and unjust. However it is important to note that in this verse we are directly told that the Holy Qur’an is a “Guide” giving divine instructions to the whole world and to humanity as a whole; and not just to Muslims only.
In Surah Baqarah 2:186, we are informed that during this holy month of Ramadan, our All-Merciful Allah is nearer to us and He is more than willing to answer our prayers when done in sincerity (Ikhlas) and humble obedience (Ita’at) to His will. This is not the only verse in which we are told about this special nearness of Allah to us. For instance, in Surah Anfal 8:24 we are told “Allah comes in between a person and his heart,” Likewise, Surah Quaff 50:16 explicitly tells us: “We are nearer to Him than his life-vein.” These verses that directly relate the value of our prayers to our fasting clearly indicate that Allah is even closer to us during the holy month of Ramadan if we spiritually utilize the blessed days of this month in humble adoration, sincere contemplation, and fervent worship (Ibadah) to Him.
In one relevant Hadith Sharif (sacred Tradition) of our Holy Prophet (peace be upon him), we learn from Hazrat Abu Bakr Siddiq who reported that the Prophet Muhammad said: “When the blessed month of Ramadan comes, the doors of Paradise are opened and all the doors of Hell are closed, and all the devils, Shaytans, Jinns, Ifrits, Marids and all kinds of evil spirits are tied-up or enchained” (cf. Shaar-ul Sahih Bukhari Sharif wa Muslim Sharif, Kitab-us-Siyam). This Hadith clearly articulates to us that the All-Merciful Allah is more generous and more forgiving to the believers during the month of Ramadan; provided of course that we follow the Prophetic guidance in worshipping Allahu Taala as given to us by the Holy Qur’an and the Sunnah (example) of our Beloved Prophet. In Surah Saff 37:75, Allah Himself assured us that He is “the Excellent Responder to all our prayers”. Our Almighty Allah Himself further promises His believers with utmost assurance of His mercy and grace when He unequivocally declared: “I answer the prayer of the supplicant when he calls upon Me” (Surah Mu’min 40:60).
We should therefore double our efforts in seeking Almighty Allah’s good pleasure and favour during this holy month. We may ask as to how we can achieve this. The Holy Qur’an is divided for our reading convenience into thirty (30) Juz Sharif (equal parts for devotional reading). We should therefore aim in completing our devotional reading of the Holy Qur’an at least one Juz Sharif daily during Ramadan and continue our daily regular reading thereafter, even if it is only some few pages at a time. Most importantly, every effort should be made to ensure that we put into practice what we have read and learned in order to derive full benefit from Allah’s “guidance” as found in His holy Word. Let me encourage all my fellow believers to do our duty as genuine Muslims by conveying the message of the Holy Book to everyone. But before doing so, we must first ensure that we understand the spiritual meanings of the verses we read; and that we put them into active practice in our daily lives as true Muslims.
Some of the areas where we can improve upon in our spiritual practice as genuine believers are our relationships towards fellow Muslims and our wholehearted efforts in bringing about greater harmony, tolerance, acceptance, peacemaking, amity, concord and understanding among all peoples in the world, during this blessed month. The Holy Qur’an Surah Hujurat 49:13 says: “O mankind, surely We have created you from a male and a female, and made you tribes and families that you may know each other. Surely the noblest of you with Allah is the most dutiful among you.” Kindly take note that the above verse addresses humanity as a whole. It is clear from these passages that the Holy Qur’an offers guidance for all human beings not just only for believers. The all-inclusive and universal Qur’anic guidance is relevant to one-and-all, Muslims and non-Muslims alike: in fact all moral and spiritual instructions found in the Holy Qur’an are for all humanity! I sincerely pray that Allahu Taala grants us the wisdom to comply with these virtuous deeds towards global understanding and worldwide harmony, most especially during this holy month of Ramadan, so that we can attain to full righteousness as required by Almighty Allah.
Another beneficial and spiritual act that we can perform during this blessed month of Ramadan as Muslims who desire to please Allah Almighty is to peacefully and amicably convey the true message of our Islamic faith to everyone. But before doing so, we must first ensure that we are spiritually equipped in our Dawah (spiritual propagation) by understanding both the outer and inner meanings of Islam; and that we put into sincere practice both the form and spirit of Islamic worship in our daily lives. When we convey the message of the Holy Qur’an to others and invite them to the fold of Islam, we must bear in mind the instructions of Almighty Allah on the proper etiquette of Islamic preaching (Tabligh): “Call to the way of your Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation, and argue with them in the best manner. Surely your Lord knows best him who strays from His path, and He knows best those who go aright.” (Surah Nahl 16:125).
The Holy Qur’an reminds us that “rising by night (for prayers) is surely the firmest way to please Allah (Surah Muzammil 73:6)” and consequently, emphasis is placed on praying the regular “Tahajjud” (prayers after midnight) and the highly recommended “Taraweeh” (prayers to recite the entire Qur’an during Ramadan). These additional prayers will enable us to effectively reach true nearness and proximity (Qurbatan wa Nazdeeq-ul-Llah) to our Beloved Maker, Allahu Taala.
May this holy Ramadan fasting become a spiritual mirror of our true standing as Allah’s slaves. May our struggles, failures and victories over our egos and our senses during this month will show us the true reflection of our real self when compared to the ‘mirror’ of Allah’s beautiful divine character—as to how far we are yet in becoming Allah’s friends (Wali-ul-llah) and lovers (Aashiq-ul-llah). Keeping these points in view, there is yet tremendous scope for correction and betterment of one’s self during this holy month. But we must remind ourselves that the effort we have expended in taming of our unruly self, along with our self-denial during fasting should not just only be for one month, but for the rest of our earthly lives. At the end of Ramadan Sharif, we should make an all-out effort to continue the spiritual gains we have attained in this blessed month for the rest of the year, by the grace and mercy of our All-Forgiving Allah alone. I pray that our Beloved Allah grants us the opportunity to observe holy Ramadan in its true spirit, as outlined by our great Sunni and Sufi preceptors. As we continually perform this holy training of controlling our unbridled senses and our untamed egos during this holy month, let us offer whatever merits we have for a peaceful world, for harmony and world unity and Allah’s blessings for one-and-all: Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
May the Most Compassionate Allah make it easy for all of us to complete the number of days of the fasting month. May Allahu Taala assist us with His grace and mercy so that we will be able to fulfil all our acts of worship during this holy month, and may He be pleased by all these manifestations of our humble servanthood to Him. May our Beloved Allah help us all who are presently going through trials in our lives whatever these may be. For the sake of this most holy of all months, may we have the grace to bear our trials with courage and resignation to the holy will of our Almighty Allah. Ameen, summa Ameen (Amen, and again Amen)… Ramadan Mubarak wa Kareem to all!
Prof. Henry Francis B. Espiritu is Associate Professor-VI of Philosophy and Asian Studies at the University of the Philippines (UP), Cebu City. He was former Academic Coordinator of the Political Science Program at UP Cebu from 2011-2014. His research interests include Islamic Studies particularly Sunni (Hanafi) jurisprudence, Islamic feminist discourses, Islam in interfaith dialogue initiatives, Islamic environmentalism, the writings of Imam Al-Ghazali on pluralism and tolerance, Turkish Sufism, Muslim-Christian dialogue, Middle Eastern affairs, Peace Studies and Public Theology.