Ramadan, a Training Session to Develop Taqwa

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SHAFAQNA- A major difference between the Islamic Fast and mere starvation is that the Ramaḍān fast is an exercise in self-discipline involving food intake, use of tongue, hands, eyes, ears, thoughts, and sex, etc. Many of the undesirable habits and traits of the previous months are automatically corrected during this month. Some of us, God forbid, may have been habituated to a particular type of wrong-doing e.g. gambling, smoking, drinking, backbiting, fornication, fraud, hot temper, domestic violence, etc. Fasting breaks that habit either gradually for some or immediately for those of us with a stronger will power, especially if supported by constant supplications in seeking Allah’s assistance. To do so, it needs faith and determination. The usual antidote is to put an entirely opposite thought in the mind contained in a Qur’anic verse, for immediate implementation, which would block and displace the evil trend.
During the Islamic Fast, every organ in the body that has been given to us as Trust by Allah is put to a critical test. We must not see, hear, utter or act evil. This is a training session for us to develop Taqwā (God-consciousness) and piety, as well as to show gratitude for the great favour of the Revelation of the Qur’an during the month of Ramaḍān in Lailatul Qadr (Q.2:183-185). These organs include:
(a) The tongue:
The tongue is too noble an organ for it to be abused. It must be kept clean and should not be used for backbiting, slander, ridicule, obscene language and telling lies. In fact, all these violate the sanctity of fasting and cancel it. Allah has placed the tongue in a special compartment behind bars (our teeth) and properly sealed it (with our lips), and has left it for us to constantly watch and guard it. The same tongue that is used to spread evil could also be used to spread righteousness instead. This latter is classified as charity and has an added advantage. We lose nothing and gain much. With this same tongue, we can cause mischief and bloodshed, and yet it could also be used to make peace between persons and families and transform the lives of hundreds of homes into happy ones. Injury caused by the tongue may be worse than that caused by a knife since the latter heals in a week or so but that of the tongue may often never heal at all. Allah is the Unseen Guest in every company and is the Silent Listener in every conversation. It is just as important to know when to speak and why not to. Well-timed silence could be the most commanding expression and a suitable reply to many.
(b) The hand:
With one hand, we can take away people’s money and yet with this same hand we can give also. To give is a divine quality; to take is human. With this same hand, we can knock down a person weaker than ourselves. But strength lies not in knocking down a weaker person but lies in lifting someone who is already fallen on the ground. Here the poet explains:
(c) The legs:
Surely these legs can carry us to the discos, pubs and nightclubs. But these same legs can also carry us to the mosque or to an orphanage or to a hospital to visit the sick.
(d) Others:
Similarly, the other perceptual organs of the body given to us by Allah as trust should not be abused. The eyes must not look at anything evil; the ears must not listen to gossip and vulgar jokes. The mind that controls the body should be tuned to a different frequency of clean thoughts and intentions; the sexual organs should only be used for the legal partner and that, too, after the fast is broken.
Fasting has been prescribed by Allah as a form of worship, also as a training period to develop Taqwā, as well as to show gratitude for the great favour of the Revelation of the Holy Qur᾿an during Ramadān in Lailatul Qadr. The best way to show gratitude for a favour is to fulfill His Commandments (Q.2:183-185).
Spiritual strength cannot be gathered from fasting unless the fasting person is fully conscious of its purpose, and he himself motivates his thoughts, words and deeds. Taqwā is indeed the most valuable fruit of fasting. Fasting is a duty and an ‘Ibādah (worship) which is free from hypocrisy and show. Fasting, unlike prayers, Zakāt and Ḥajj, is strictly private since no one can know about it unless the fasting person mentions it. During fasting, one subdues the animal within oneself and masters one’s instincts and desires to the point of determining as to when and how they may be satisfied. This in turn depends on the will-power one has developed. Whenever there is conflict between reason and passion and reason dominates, then we are free to choose and implement our actions according to the moral and spiritual laws. This freedom is universally possessed by all human beings, the freedom to will as one wish. Free will is the authority man has to direct his mind in any direction he chooses. It is important to choose the direction carefully, since this would indicate success or failure of will. The development of will power and the personality is an arduous task and is an outcome of this conflict. However, if we abide by and follow the spiritual laws, will power develops slowly but surely. Fasting strengthens the will and hence the will power, a welcome and plausible addition to our spiritual curriculum vitae.
To love honour and obey Allah is to conscript oneself voluntarily into His service. Just as the government trains men for the army, police force and civil service before employing them to do their job, so does Islam. It first trains all those who volunteer for service to Allah before allowing them to take on the job of His vicegerency for establishing Allah’s rule on Earth. Just as an annual military exercise is compulsory in national military services of many countries, conducted by their respective governments, similarly the month of Ramaḍān is a compulsory annual spiritual exercise for full one month once a year, conducted by Allah Himself. Ramaḍān is the month of Allah. The mere fact that fasting has been made compulsory in Islam, goes to show that it must be having multiple and colossal benefits to the body and to the soul, both in this life and in the Hereafter. Allah says in Q.2:184:- “It is better for you to fast, if you only knew”.
A Muslim is continuously kept tied with rules and regulations like a soldier in an army, for full one month and then released for eleven months, to test whether the training he has received for one month has been effective, and if not, any deficiency found could be corrected and made up in the next year’s Ramaḍān program. One or two days of fasting are not enough to achieve the noble goal of attachment to Allah. In Q.2:185, Allah advises us to fast the whole month and “complete the prescribed period”. Thus we have in our possession this divine prescription. Far from weakening a person, the Islamic fast enables him to draw more strength from the Unseen Power, so close to him. The Ramaḍān atmosphere enhances this driving force by which every individual races to reach his full potential. After having completed the period of fasting, we are advised to glorify Allah for having guided us and be thankful to Him (Q.2:185). Allah wants us to make the right choice and behave well when left alone and unattended. We must always be on the look-out for Satan because, although we are told he is chained during Ramaḍān, he could be very active.
In Islam we must not say “I”, we must say “We”, because of emphasis on community life. Even when we pray, we say: “Ihdinas Sirātal Mustaqīm”, i.e. guide us to the straight Path, not me alone. The ultimate result of our fasting together each day is the emergence of a well-organized, well-disciplined pious Muslim community, the Ummah, where each person is more spiritually evolved, and better equipped with fortitude to act and live according to the divine moral codes laid down in the Holy Qur᾿an. To come nearer to Allah is possible only by firm faith and conviction and by actually doing good deeds (Q. 34:37). The more a man develops within himself the divine attributes, the nearer he comes to Allah and to His magnificent qualities.

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