“Ramazan is part of the Muslim culture of resistance to the mindless consumerism of our time,” Tim Winter, lecturer of Islamic Studies at Cambridge University, wrote to me in response to my question about the true meaning of Ramazan. “Only by a tough discipline of self-control can we learn detachment, thus experiencing inner calm, and challenge the ideology of greed which is threatening the planet.”
But if you drive on the roads of Karachi anytime between dawn and dusk you’ll realise that we act as if we’re doing the world a favour by fasting. The traffic gets worse as iftar time nears, as do our etiquette and mannerism.
This got me thinking. In addition to causing stock rallies, Ramazan is mostly a month of internal battle against the desires of the flesh. For me, abstaining from my usual dose of morning coffee is one of the many challenges I face. Fasting is not as simple as not eating and drinking from dawn to dusk – the practice helps break away from the enslavement of habit-forming vices.
Strengthening the will to abstain from what’s lawful during the month of Ramazan can be a precursor to being steadfast in refraining from what’s forbidden throughout the year. The effect of fasting on mind and soul varies, and it depends on one’s sense of purpose. A prominent scholar of Islam, Faraz Rabbani, made an interesting observation: “Some fast for God. Some fast because it is good. Others fast for the joy of breaking their fast. (Then, they indulge...).”
For those who understand fasting as a form of starvation, sundown is the time for indulgence. My journey through Ramazan and its meaning has changed over the years. The more I have thought through the reasons why I fast, the more I have come to see that the act of giving up morsel is a process of spiritual purification. I didn’t fully grasp the concept of purification of soul until I meditated on the nature of the lower self and its numerous manifestations. Now, the challenge is to reign over the desires that disconnect the “seeker” from the Divine.
This battle with the lower self will continue until my cadaver is cold, but Ramazan is yet another opportunity to polish the soul. Besides my coffee dependency, hierarchy of wants and search for profitable stocks (pun intended), there are questions that I need to answer through meditation during Ramazan: Will I forgive those who wronged me and make amends to those I have wronged? Will I covet material things or be content with what I have? Will I restrain my glance from bodily allure? And, more importantly, will I help the needy or cling to every penny I have?
Reading the Parable of the Old Man and the Sock by Irving Karchmar, a dervish and novelist, made me reflect (once again) on the ephemeralness of life. It tells the story of a wealthy man who instructs his son to put a sock on his dead body, knowing the preparations for Islamic burial doesn’t allow more than a white shroud. The father wanted the son to learn a lesson that one should remember at all times:
We come to this world alone and we depart alone, leaving behind each and every material thing we strive for, taking with us only the stock of deeds.
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