Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Significance of Ramadan

In his Friday Sermon of August 03, 2012 Khalifatullah Hadhrat Munir Ahmad Azim Sahib of Mauritius (atba) explained the significance of the Fasting month of Ramadan in the Islamic Calendar. Fasting is being prescribed for the believers so that we may act righteously and guard ourselves against evil. At an individual level, fasting enables a person to bear hardships and thereby strengthens his/her ability to withstand complex problems and life situations. At another level, it enlarges the empathy and fellow-feeling in us vis-a-vis the suffering humanity. Fasting also enables a person to detach his/her material self from the preoccupations of a mundane life and to discover the spiritual side by spending time in the remembrance of Allah, the Most High.

Read the Extracts from the Friday Sermon:
What makes the ninth Islamic month so significant? The answer is to be found in the Holy Quran, in the verse which I just recited before you, in Surah Al-Baqara . It tells us:

“The month of Ramadan (is that) in which the Quran was revealed, a guidance for the people and clear proofs of guidance and criterion. So whoever sights (the new moon of) the month, let him fast it; and whoever is ill or on a journey - then an equal number of other days. Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship and (wants) for you to complete the period and to glorify Allah for that (to) which He has guided you; and perhaps you will be grateful.” (2: 186)

Commenting on the above verse, firstly, I wish to point out that this revelation says that the Quran was revealed for mankind. Whereas all other previously revealed books were meant for specific people and specific times, the Quran is a source of guidance for all peoples and all times. The month of Ramadan is therefore a sacred month because of a great event that took place during it, that is, the start of revelation of the Holy Quran.

Secondly, the Quran was revealed for the benefit of mankind with clear proofs of guidance and discrimination (from right and wrong). Therefore this book comprises all truths; such truths as mankind may stand in need of at any time and in any circumstances.

Thirdly, there is the instruction that whosoever is on home ground and in their normal circumstances, should fast during this month of Ramadan. Now for what reason do we have to observe the fast? Again, referring to the Holy Quran, we read: O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may become righteous. (2: 184)

In the above two verses we are presented with the answer to my previous question on why we should observe the fast. God has prescribed it so that we may act righteously and guard ourselves against evil. In our everyday life when we suffer a physical ailment and visit the doctor we readily accept the treatment (or meditation) that he prescribes, trusting that he knows what is the best for us in that condition. Therefore, when God, the All-Knower, prescribed a treatment with wisdom, knowing what is best for our spiritual and physical condition, we should follow this advice without question.

Putting religion aside, fasting has since been discovered by medical science as a boon for the physical body as it detoxifies and purifies it. Fasting is practiced to some extent by individuals as well. Even in the animal kingdom, we observe animals fasting in response to the promptings of nature. So it is quite a natural thing to let the body undergo the rigors of fasting to some extent.

Regarding the religious aspect of fasting, it was a common experience for saints and seers that a certain degree of severance from physical relations or worldly connections was essential for spiritual advancement. The Holy prophet of Islam (peace be upon him) used to go into retreat in the mosque during the last ten days of Ramadan. The prescription of fasting is not a new one and not for Muslims alone.

Following the teachings of Prophet Moses (upon him be peace), Jews also observe the fast at a certain time of the year. When we go back in history we find that fasting was prescribed for the people of earlier faiths, thousands of years ago! One example is that Jesus (upon him be peace) observed the fast. Islam, however, has greatly spiritualized this institution by attaching to it highly useful regulations and restrictions. According to Islam, fasting constitutes a symbol of complete sacrifice because here one does not only abstain from food and drink, but also from sexual relations with one’s spouse, from sunrise to sunset, also one abstains from vile talks and all sorts of evil thoughts and acts.

The beneficence of fasting is: (1) in obeying the command of God; (2) thus purifying the body and the mind. The clause in the verse, so that you may become righteous, explains the deep philosophy underlying the commandment relating to fasting. The beauty of the Holy Quran is that it has a special characteristic in that, whenever it gives an important commandment it does not give it arbitrarily but also explains its usefulness so that the addressee may be convinced of, and satisfied about the wisdom underlying it.

The real object of fasting is: (1) to be saved from harm and suffering, and (2) to be saved from sin and evil. The first object is attained through fasting in two ways: When a man commits evil deeds and becomes deserving of God’s punishment on account of those deeds, but later feels ashamed of them and turns to God in repentance, then fasting serves as an atonement of his sins.

Fasting not only makes a man fit and able to bear hardships but also makes him realize the suffering of his brethren in distress and feel sympathy for them. Thus fasting goes a long way to remove and minimize the pains and suffering of humanity.

The second object that of being saved from sin and evil is attained through fasting because, while fasting a person has not only to abandon eating and drinking but also to a certain extent, to keep himself aloof from worldly connections and to abstain from indulging in his desires, with the result that his thought naturally tend towards spiritual things.

In the Holy Quran (2: 185) the revelation continues, which at the same time enhances the teachings of Islam, being that Islam is a practical religion which does not give commandment that are impossible to comply with: “The prescribed fasting is for a fixed number of days, but whose among you is sick or is on journey shall fast an equal number of days (to replace the missing fasts). And upon those who are able (to fast, but with hardship), a ransom (as substitute) of feeding a poor person (each day). And whoever volunteers excess, it is better for him. But to fast is best for you, if you only knew.”

The three cases indicated here who should not fast, are: (1) The sick, (2) Those on a journey, (3) Those too weak and thus unable to fast. Yet for them God has made provision so that they not be left out of his favour, due to condition beyond their control. The Quran makes it clear (in the first and second class) that whosoever is ill or is on a journey should not fast but should redeem the omission by fasting an equal number of days at some other time when the sickness is gone or the journey is over.

The third class applies basically to those who are not actually sick but whose physical condition or general health is such that they are unable to fast without risking injury to their health. This class includes pregnant women and mothers giving suck to babies, young children and old people. They should make amends for the non-observance of fasting by feeding a poor person according to their standard of food, for everyday during Ramadan. Therefore, fasting in the month of Ramadan is compulsory for all believers with the exception of the three classes mentioned. Muslims are also encouraged to observe voluntary fasting for a few days in the other months of the year as well.

Another sacrifice also encouraged especially in Ramadan is to give charity. It was reported by his companions that the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) was the most generous of men and he was at his most bountiful during Ramadan when the angel Gabriel visited him every night and recited the Quran to him. In addition, the Holy prophet (peace be upon him) would also persuade people to offer supererogatory prayers during Ramadan out of sincerity of faith and in hope of earning merit that will have their past sins forgiven.

After fasting 29 or 30 days of this lunar month, Eid-ul-Fitr is celebrated in joyous celebration but before the day of Eid arrives, believers are required to pay Fitra which is distributed in the last week of Ramadan, few days before Eid, to the less fortunate so that they may make provisions to enjoy the Eid festival as well. This institution points out another beauty in the teaching of Islam, that is, to carry out humanitarian work for the up lift of the nation in general. It aims at the fair and equal distribution and circulation of wealth among the members of the nation.

Ramadan, therefore, is a month of sacrifice and a month of special blessings. God has presented to mankind the greatest gift of all in the form of the Holy Quran. In Ramadan, the believers who are fasting are much more conscious of their Lord and of the sufferings of the poor and needy. Much of the day and night is spent in supplication and remembrance of God thus bringing them nearer to God, which is the ultimate aim to become righteous.

This, in a nutshell, explains everything concerning Ramadan, objectives and reasons. It leads us to reflect seriously, and render obeisance and gratitude to the mercy and grace of God Almighty. The clause of the last-mentioned verse, says: “… But to fast is best for you, if you only knew.” No-one knows mankind better than the Creator Himself. He is the All-Knower, thus we should be grateful for this. And to show this gratitude we should worship God alone, obey His commands, remember Him often and praise Him, and carry out all good deeds which shall see to our paving our way to Allah in a humble and respectful manner. Insha-Allah, Ameen.