By Babatunde Jose
O you who believe! Guard your own souls: If you follow right guidance, no harm can come to you from those who stray. The goal of you all is to Allah.
It is He who will show you the truth of all that you do.
The Quran 5:105
A deep reflection on the institution of Fast reveals the various ways in which fasting helps in the mending of habits and development of character and God consciousness. With the onset of Ramadan, it behoves each fasting person to open a page from the book of muhasabah (critical self-evaluation) and to reflect on what is being achieved through the month. What benefits are derived, which behaviors are adjusted, what good practices are adopted, which bad habits are being relinquished? How does the prayers and fasting of Ramadan influence attitudes and perspectives; how is it improving relationships with families, friends and neighbors; how much has it increased consciousness of responsibility towards the destitute; how is it impacting on the body, the heart, the mind and the soul. If there is a genuine effort towards the spiritualization of one’s being, the moralization of consciousness, empathy in attitude and goodness in conduct; then perchance a concerted effort is being made of treading on the pathway towards the objective of fasting – the attainment of taqwa (piety). Truly, the month of Ramadan is a season for spiritual stocktaking.
In a world, increasingly amoral, perception is considered reality. How one appears to the world has overtaken the substance of who we really are. Taqwa is in reality character development coupled with God-consciousness. Character is not only the face in the mirror, but the real person behind the face. The pursuance of piety begins by making our reputation a reflection of our character. Reputation may be reflected in what people write about you on your tombstone, character is what angels report about you to Allah; and that is the most important.
Ramadan is an ideal training period for filtering out bad habits and developing virtuous character. It is therefore, a good time for our leaders to turn a new leaf, lest ‘we the people’ decide to chase them out like Oliver Cromwell did the ‘Long Parliament’ in 1653. Cromwell’s speech aptly reflects the character of our leaders today: “It is high time for me to put an end to your sitting in this place, which you have dishonored by your contempt of all virtue, and defiled by your practice of every vice; ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government; ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money. Is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? Is there one vice you do not possess? Ye have no more religion than my horse; gold is your God; which of you has not bartered your conscience for bribes? Is there a man amongst you that has the least care for the good of the Commonwealth? Ye sordid prostitutes; have you not defiled this sacred place, and turned the Lord’s temple into a den of thieves, by your immoral principles and wicked practices? Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation; . . ..” If only they would change in the spirit of Ramadan!
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: “Your practice of faith will not be correct unless your actions are correct, and your actions will not be considered correct unless your heart is correct.” Ramadan is therefore a period for spiritual rejuvenation as it offers the opportunity for a unique expression of worship.
From ethical and moral perspectives, we should contemplate the higher purpose and the deeper meaning of our lives, trying to live meaningfully; balancing our physicality with our spirituality.
While Fasting, we are far more aware of the hunger of the poor and the suffering of the oppressed and are therefore instructed to be more generous this month. This promotes attentiveness to social responsibility, interest in the welfare of society and inspires a continued spirit of generosity. The Qur’an refers to the fasting ones as sa’ihin/spiritual wayfarers. So, the journey of Ramadan motivates each person to perpetuate the positive spirit being imbibed and to continue on the spiritual journey towards fulfilment and excellence.
It is easy to talk about the world’s problem of hunger. We can feel sorry that millions of people go to bed hungry each day. But not until one can actually feel it in one’s own body is the impact truly there. Compassion based on empathy is much stronger and more consistent than compassion based on pity. This feeling must lead to action. Fasting is never an end in itself; that’s why it has so many different outcomes. But all the other outcomes are of no real moral value if compassion is not enlarged and extended through fasting. It is therefore in the interest of our fasting leaders and those not fasting to shed the toga of iniquity, selfishness and corruption and for once think of the poor masses who are not only defenseless but also hungry. It is only by doing this that the fast can have spiritual reward and meaning. As the prophet Isaiah said, “The kind of fasting I want is this: remove the chains of oppression and the yoke of injustice, and let the oppressed go free. Share your food with the hungry and open your homes to the homeless poor” (Isaiah 58:3-7)
May Allah accept our fast, Amee.
Ramadan Kareem and Barka Jumuah