The Long Journey from not Eating to Fasting

The Long Journey from not Eating to Fasting


Dr Farhad Shafti For some, the month of Ramadan is a month of refraining from eating and drinking between dawn and sunset. For some, it is the month of reading more of the Qur'an and saying more prayers and supplications plus the above. For a few, it is the month of gaining a sustaining and higher level of God-consciousness (taqwa) plus the above to help with the purification of the soul (tazkiyah). According to the Qur'an, only the latter group is aiming for what is really the goal of fasting in the month of Ramadan (2:183). Here is a collection of some practical points that might help us getting closer to the latter group. 1. Having a plan We are living in a very busy world where we can easily find ourselves engaged in work all day and are quite tired during the night. In this busy life the month of Ramadan passes very fast and before we know it we reach the day of Eid. It is very wise to have some plans to determine and decide what special things we want to and can do during this month and how best we can accommodate them in our busy life schedule. 2. Does not matter if you cannot fast Many people might not be strong enough or healthy enough to fast especially if they are living where the summer daytime is extremely long. There are also those who might be travelling during all or part of the month of Ramadan. Sometimes people think that if they do not fast, then the month of Ramadan is not for them and they cannot get any benefit from it. This is wrong. One who has a genuine excuse for not fasting can still benefit from the month of Ramadan. Most of the points that are given in this article are equally related to those who cannot fast. In fact, having more energy than those who fast, they may even do better in adopting some of these points! 3. Cleaning any anger and hatred towards others from our heart To attempt to increase our taqwa for the sake of tazkiyah while having a grudge and anger in our heart against a fellow human being is like trying to fill up a broken bottle with water. We need to do what it takes to erase any anger and hatred towards others from our heart. 4. Deciding what increasing taqwa means for us and setting it as an aim of our month of Ramadan This point seems to be the core requirement for those who want to attain more taqwa in the month of Ramadan. If we want to really aim for the real objective of the month of Ramadan, then we need to carefully study our soul in an attempt to recognise its weaknesses. This can be anything: becoming angry very easily, offending others, becoming offended very easily, being lazy in our prayers, becoming worried very easily, behaving badly with others, not thinking about the right of others, eating a lot, sleeping a lot, wasting too much time, etc. No one can tell us better than us what these weaknesses are. We will then decide that in this month of Ramadan we want to eliminate or improve (not all but) one, two, or only a few of these weaknesses. If we take the opportunity to use the month of Ramadan to take the selected weakness/es out of our system for good, then by the grace of God we have managed to meet the real aim of the month of Ramadan. This point is really the backbone of the idea behind this article. It therefore deserves some elaboration. There are a few tips that can help with the above: - Starting the month with repenting Since we want to get rid of some bad habits and practices in this month it makes perfect sense to start the month and in fact enter the month with offering a repentance prayer. This simply means to perform two rak'ah prayers and then to ask God to forgive us for that or those habit/s or practice/s that we are now determined to throw out of our system during the month of Ramadan and for good. - Praying to be successful in our repentance Obviously, we have general requests in our prayers plus specific requests for others and ourselves. However beside these, we also need to specifically ask the Almighty to help us with our decision and determination to get rid of that/those selected weakness/es, as discussed above. Even when we read the Qur'an, while learning and benefiting generally from it, we will see if we can get any inspiration or guidance from the Qur'an with regard to this challenge that we have decided to face. - Controlling and monitoring In order to be successful in our determination to remove one or more of our weaknesses, we need to closely and carefully review our performance every day to see whether we are doing well, whether we need to adjust a few things to assist with our aim and whether we need to correct and rectify any shortcomings in our progress towards the aim. - Fasting not just in eating The best way of thinking about how to get rid of some of the weaknesses of our soul is to consider "avoiding them" as part of our fasting. Fasting from food and drink means refraining from eating and drinking during only a limited time of a day in the month of Ramadan. Fasting from what we have selected to correct in ourselves in the month of Ramadan does not have any limits and will become part of our personality by the end of the month of Ramadan so it will never end. 5. Offering proper Tahajjud We know that the Prophet (sws) has advised us that if we cannot offer the tahajjud during its real time, then we can offer it after the 'isha prayer. We also know that during the month of Ramadan, traditionally many Muslims seize this opportunity and offer their tahajjud prayer after 'isha in congregation and that is what gradually was called tarawih. Point number five is to offer proper tahajjud at least during the month of Ramadan. That is, saying it individually after midnight and preferably in its best time i.e. the portion of the night that is closer to the time of dawn. During our tahajjud, if we like, and if we have not memorised much of the Qur'an, we can hold the book in our hands and read from it. We can determine how many verses or pages to read in every rak'ah before doing the last three ones. We do not need to aim to finish the Qur'an by the end of the month and we can be flexible and sometimes read only short Surahs of the Qur'an if we are too tired or need to wake up early the day after. Note that this does not suggest that participating in tarawih prayer is wrong. 6. Praying for others It is better if we always start our prayers to God by glorifying Him and counting His blessings in our life, then asking general and specific goodness and help for all and then for those close to us in particular our parents, kin and friends and only then for ourselves. 7. Giving charity Giving a bit more than normal as charity during this month can have a tremendous effect on us. 8. More attention to the quality of our prayers We need to use the month of Ramadan to give special attention to the quality of our daily prayers. The key effect of the prayer is manifestation of one of the sentences that we read repeatedly during every prayer, that is, "Only You we worship and only You we seek help from". 9. Reading the Qur'an while pondering upon the meanings Reading the Qur'an without pondering over its meanings is still helpful but is nowhere near the way that we are supposed to read the Qur'an. There is no need and no obligation to read the Qur'an in haste aiming to finish it in the month of Ramadan. Reading the Qur'an should be in the form of dialogue, in that, we read the message of the Almighty and then we reflect on it by our "mind" and "heart" and where appropriate by the "tongue" (like praying for Paradise when we read its description, seeking God's mercy when we read the description of Hell, thanking God when we read about His blessings, etc.). 10. Talking to God Every prayer and every narrated supplication is talking to the Almighty. While these are very rewarding, we should also develop the ability and the habit of talking to God on our own initiative. We should be able to talk with Him in private and to say whatever we would like to say to our Lord and Creator. We do not need to worry about what to say and how to say it as He is the most merciful and kind and He loves us more than a parent loves a child. We need not to think of a special way of doing this, we can simply open our heart and talk. We might find it difficult at the start but once we get used to it we will be able to enjoy it and see the benefit. Nothing replaces the happy and peaceful feeling of a servant of God who is shedding tears of joy while talking with his Lord where no one else can see him. 11. Pondering over God's names There is a reason that God's attributes are mentioned in the Qur'an. Pondering over these attributes and thinking about them and their effect on us have a great influence on our soul. Calling God and praying to Him by these names (like for instance Basir – All Seeing, 'Alim – All Knowing, Hakeem – Wise, ...) can help a lot in putting us on the right spiritual direction. 12. Reminding ourselves about death and making it a well-established fact in our heart It is easy to "know" we will die someday and as a Muslim it is also easy to "know" there will be a Hereafter. What is difficult is to establish the concept in our heart in a way that it positively affects our relationship with our Lord, with others and with ourselves. If we remind ourselves about death and Hereafter and their implications this might help with establishing the concept in our heart. The aim is not to be sad or disappointed, but to be motivated enough to prepare for what will certainly happen which will also help us to have a happier life in this world. 13. Not to go to extremes at the time of Iftar The point of fasting is not to postpone the amount of the food that we were supposed to eat only to have it all in one go during iftar (and perhaps adding even more to make it more pleasant!). Iftar is for us to break our fast so that we do not fall in hardship. There is absolutely no problem with enjoying the food and having what we like to have. However we need to make sure that we will not go to extremes. After all, how can one deeply ponder over the Qur'an and diligently offer tahajjud after midnight and all the other things we want to do for our spirituality if we have filled our stomach with so much food that we can hardly move or stay awake? 14. Taking care of the tongue! We did discuss getting rid of bad habits and practices in point 4 above. The tongue of a human being however is such a naughty thing that it deserves a special "tip" of its own. We will find that during the month of Ramadan, controlling our tongue will become very relevant in attaining taqwa. We need, of course. to talk with our family, colleagues and those around us, however, especially during the month of Ramadan, there is no harm if we also experience periods of silence to keep ourselves immune from the potential problems that our tongue might bring us. We are specially advised not to get involved in arguments in this month. 15. Not to miss opportunities to help others or to be kind to them We sometimes use fasting as an excuse to lay back. We should not allow this to take away opportunities where we may be able to help a fellow human being or where we can gain many rewards just by being kind. These are short cuts in the path of purification of soul (tazkiyah) that often many are neglectful about. 16. Understanding Islam better During the month of Ramadan, there can be times that we like to spend for the cause of fasting yet we are not in the mood of offering more prayers, etc. In other words, we might need a break from our ritual worship while still longing to do something related to religion. In this case, a good break would be to learn more about Islam from its original sources and from those who have learned it from its original sources. Having a correct understanding of Islam will help us with being better Muslims. 17. Thinking about ourselves The last point described one way of having a break from our ritual worship while still doing something related to religion. Another thing we can and should do is for each of us to think about him/herself. This means reviewing one's life so far, thinking about the person that one has become, the strength of one's belief, one's priorities, the way one wants to spend the rest of one's life. This overall means reflecting on one's life thus far in order to see where one is heading and whether any adjustment or redirection is needed. 18. I'tikaf The idea of i'tikaf is to distance ourselves from the busy day-to-day life and to devote some special time to improve our relationship with our Lord through worship, reading the Qur'an and thinking about God and us. The preferred way of doing this is to stay a few days during the last ten days of the month of Ramadan in a mosque. However if this is not possible for us, we can at least choose to stay for a shorter period in a mosque. Even staying between two prayers can be considered as i'tikaf. It is important to note that we do i'tikaf to have some private and quality time with our Lord not to spend it chitchatting with people. 19. Seeking Laylah al-Qadr (the Night of Destiny) There is a reason why we are not advised by a divine source as to what night the Laylah al-Qadr is. If the point was to simply hit the correct night like hitting a target then we would have been told what that night was. Instead, we are advised to "seek" it during the odd nights of the last ten nights of the month of Ramadan. The point maybe is to prepare our heart and make it so powerful that we would get the benefit we are seeking anyway, even if we do not know what night the night of Qadr is and even if we unintentionally miss it. 20. Do not commit Haram The most important precondition of all that is mentioned in this article is to not even go near what is made haram for us. There is no place for taqwa if haram is still in play. Doing lots of worship and then committing haram is like taking a handful of water and then opening our hands wide. Almost nothing will remain! 21. Encouraging the family It will help and create a helpful environment if we encourage our family members to join in the plan of attaining taqwa in the month of Ramadan. As appropriate, we may choose what things to do together and what to do individually. Each (doing things together or individually) have their own benefits. 22. Being aware of showing off We need to be very careful not to show off in doing any of our acts of worship. For instance if we find that a prayer feels more enjoyable when we are doing it in front of others then that means we are really enjoying the show off element of it rather than the prayer. If we do something apparently for God but really or partially to show off, we are only using the name of God as an excuse to serve our own ego. 23. Aiming to have a real Eid We will and we should insha'Allah celebrate Eid because that is when Muslims (who are healthy enough to do so) have managed to follow our Lord's instruction to fast during the month of Ramadan. However, on the personal level the complete Eid is when we manage to meet the objective of this month, that is, to be able to jump on a higher level of taqwa. By the end of the month if we were successful in eliminating the weaknesses we selected to work on (as in point 4) and if we have managed to throw them out of our system for good then we will have a very good reason (on a personal level) to celebrate Eid. The above points by no means are the only things that we may do to get the most out of the month of Ramadan. Obviously every individual has his/her own ways of improving his/her taqwa as well. May the Lord help us to value the month of Ramadan the way it deserves and to follow the path of His best servants in this month. It is narrated from the Prophet (sws): مَنْ لَمْ يَدَعْ قَوْلَ الزُّورِ وَالعَمَلَ بِهِ، فَلَيْسَ لِلَّهِ حَاجَةٌ فِي أَنْ يَدَعَ طَعَامَهُ وَشَرَابَهُ The one who does not leave false [bad] talk and deed [in the month of Ramadan should know that] God does not need him to leave his food and drink. (Bukhari, No. 1903) ____________




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