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The Spiritual Meaning and Purpose of the Disciplines and Practices of Ramadhan in the Life of Believers: A Sufi Muslim Perspective

By Prof. Henry Francis B. Espiritu, New Age Islam

4 May 2021

The Holy Month Of Ramadhan Is An Auspicious Time To Be Grateful To Our Beloved Allah For Giving Us Another Opportunity To Observe Fasting And Gain The Benefits From This Spiritual Exercise

Main Points:

1.    Fasting during Ramadan a spiritual exercise.

2.    Abstaining from drinking, eating and from other carnal needs are training activities for us in our daily struggle against the evil.

3.    Sufi saints always insist that while fasting, it becomes mandatory to remember that the fast is not confined to our gustatory and gastronomic acts only.

4.    May Allah help us all at this time of the COVID pandemic.


The holy month of Ramadhan is an auspicious time to be grateful to our Beloved Allah for giving us another opportunity to observe fasting and gain the benefits from this spiritual exercise. In His divine wisdom, All-Merciful Allah, who is the Lord of both our bodies, minds 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. Ramadhan fasting is established by our Beloved Allah for our own good. He establishes fasting not out of tyranny, 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 reflect 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, eating and from 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, worldliness and carnality. Our Holy Prophet Muhammad (may the peace of Allah be upon him and his Companions) had clearly made this very important point that it is not hunger or thirst and our self-denial of food and drink that reaches Allah but what Allah is interested in, is the result of genuine fasting within the devotee’s heart; which is the believer’s firmness in denying his evil-commanding self within (Nafs Ammarah).

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 and gastronomic 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 our Beloved 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, delay, or even deny his bodily demands for a higher goal 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, superficial and very petty. For Sufi Muslims, the very intention of all our acts of worship is to gain the love of Allah and to please Him; in the words of Hazrat Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi (may Allah illumine his grave), to merit being called Allah’s “Wali” (friend) or His “ashiq” (lover) and “Habib” (beloved).

Furthermore, the Sufi saints of Sunni Islam remind us not to be too legalistic to simply confine ourselves only to the external forms and rules on fasting, but to transcend the external aspects of fasting by reflecting upon the very spirit (ruhaniyyah), true intention (niyyah) and inward reality (haqiqah) of fasting: that is, our Beloved Allah enjoined fasting for us so we can tame and control our hedonistic and egotistic 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 Ramadhan, we still commit various hurtful offenses against our Beloved 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 our Beloved Allah and to avoid hurting our fellow humans. The tongue’s desired use would be for truth, for spreading the good news of love, peace and harmony to everyone, for teaching respect to 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). There is indeed a very great spiritual wisdom coming from the “Naseehat” (spiritual advice) of Hazratan Hazrat Abu Bakr Siddiq, the first Khalifah-e-Mutlaq (the Paramount Caliph [Successor]) of the Holy Prophet when he said: "Fasting of the tongue or the stomach is only a mirror and a shadow of the real fast. The real fast is the fasting of the heart from all things that displease Allah and fasting of our mind, tongue and actions from breaking the hearts of other creatures of Allah." (Naseehat-e-Abu Abu Bakr Siddiq-e-Akbar [Advice from Abu Bakr the Truthful, the Great]; p. 72.).

May this Holy Ramadhan fasting become a spiritual mirror of our true standing as Allah’s slaves. May our struggles, failures and victories over our egotistical self and our hedonistic senses during this holy 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 we are yet so very far in becoming Allah’s friends (Wali-Ul-Llah), lovers (Ashiq-Ul-Llah) and beloved (Habib-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 the taming of our unruly self, along with our exercises of self-denial during fasting should not just only be for one month, but for the rest of our remaining ephemeral earthly lives. At the end of Ramadan Sharif, we should make an all-out effort to continue the spiritual gains we have attained during this blessed month for the rest of the year, by the grace and mercy of our All-Forgiving and All-Merciful Allah alone.

I sincerely pray that our Beloved Allah grant us the opportunity to observe Holy Ramadan in its true spirit, as outlined by our great Sunni Ulama (scholars) and exemplary Sufi Murshid (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 our Beloved Allah Taala, the All-Merciful 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, especially at this time of the COVID pandemic. For the sake of this most holy of all months, Ramadhan Sharif, 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). Ramadhan Kareem Mubarak to all.


Prof. Henry Francis B. Espiritu is Associate Professor-7 of Philosophy and Asian Studies at the University of the Philippines (UP), Cebu City, Philippines. He was former Academic Coordinator of the Political Science Program at UP Cebu from 2011-2014. He was former Coordinator of Gender and Development (GAD) Office at UP Cebu from 2015-2019. His research interests include Islamic Studies particularly Sunni jurisprudence, Islamic feminist discourses, Islam in interfaith dialogue initiatives, Islamic environmentalism, Classical Sunni Islamic pedagogy, the writings of Imam Al-Ghazali on pluralism and tolerance, Islam in the Indian Subcontinent, Turkish Sufism, Ataturk Studies, Ottoman Studies, Muslim-Christian Dialogue, Middle Eastern Affairs, Peace Studies and Public Theology.


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