A BLESSING that is sent to us every year is the special opportunity to purify our hearts and bodies, make an effort to atone for our sins and give thanks to our Creator. While our entire lives should be spent towards this goal, it is this particular time of the year that has been declared as the most suitable by God.
According to Amin Ehsan Islahi, just as in the material world, there are seasons for specific crops to be sown and harvested and if these seasons are lost, no other time can compensate for them, the spiritual world too has defined periods of time when the spirituality of humans can benefit the most.
For Muslims, this is the month of Ramazan. No other day or night can be quite as effective for repentance of sins, cleansing one’s soul, doing good and achieving calmness of spirit.
A superficial look at what Ramazan means would be to define it as abstaining from eating, drinking and conjugal relations from daybreak to sundown. This form of fasting had been practised for thousands of years by humans, mainly as a symbol of regret for having committed a wrong.
Fasting is meant to nurture the values of austerity & compassion.
It was also common in pre-Islamic Arabia. If this were all, this would be mere starvation and this is not what God has desired. It does no good if humans deprive themselves of basic needs merely to observe a ritual. And yet, this is what many of us end up doing during this month.
The first gift given by God to humans is that of rationality. He then gave us His Books and messengers to guide us so that we may navigate the tough terrain of this world by understanding His message by using this rationality.
It was in Ramazan that the Quran was revealed, a Book that He has called Furqan — that which distinguishes between truth and falsehood. Ramazan helps us to appreciate and understand this great revelation. God’s instructions to us to refrain from fulfilling our basic needs for certain hours of the day are meant to assist us in developing piety and a deeper realisation of what the Quran means for us in this life and for the next.
The main aspects of fasting during Ramazan include submission to God, by whose orders we refuse to eat or drink even if we wish to. This curbing of our natural desires should bring home the realisation that we are under His control and submit to Him for something as simple and instinctive as feeding our physical selves. If we are submitting to Him, we must also place restrictions upon our anger, hatred, greed, profiteering, cruelty, etc, in short, any wrongdoing that we will be answerable for when we face Him in the afterlife.
Our belief in the next world and in the fact that while there may be no justice here, everyone shall obtain full justice in the Court of God must be reinforced. Submission to any command from God is useless without believing that every act of ours will have to be accounted for.
In the Muslim sense of the term, fasting means practising patience and putting restrictions upon actions that are normally carried out to please our senses. Keeping guard over our thoughts and actions every moment even while our physical energies are depleted during fasting is what strengthens our spirituality and perseverance.
Even if goaded, we should tell ourselves and others that we are fasting and hence will not respond to any negative stimulation. Our time during the blessed days and nights is to be spent in prayer, reading the Quran with understanding and repentance for our sins, rather than wasting it in watching mindless television and sleeping off our hunger.
To fast is also to experience hunger and thirst, the state millions like us face every day. This experience over 30 days is meant to nurture in us the values of austerity and simplicity in our lives, compassion and love of giving and using resources sustainably.
Unfortunately, at the break of fast, we go into an orgy of eating and drinking, and buying consumer goods. It is true that giving is highest during Ramazan but equally, we indulge ourselves excessively. This period is expected to inculcate a deeper morality for the rest of the year and beyond.
Each year, Ramazan is gifted to us and it is up to us to make use of it as best we can. Who knows if we will be alive or able to sow at least some of the seeds next year which could be harvested after our deaths?
The writer is a freelance contributor with an interest in religion.
Published in Dawn, May 18th, 2018