Friday Sermon: The Essence of Fasting

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By Babatunde Jose

“The philosophy of fasting calls upon us to know ourselves, to master ourselves, and to discipline ourselves the better to free ourselves.

To fast, is to identify our dependencies, and free ourselves from them.”

Tariq Ramadan, professor of Contemporary Islamic Studies at Oxford University.

 Fasting is an avenue for the mending of habits and development of character and God consciousness. Fasting has been described as a tool for moral development and spiritual rejuvenation and most importantly as a means of enhancing compassion.

Ramadan is the month of heightened God consciousness, of attaining piety; of training ourselves to achieve the best in character while mending our bad habits: And our bad habits are legion. From covetousness to high wire corruption; embezzlement to outright pen-robbery; fornication to Satanic lusts; ecclesiastical rascality to authority stealing; grand larceny to outright immorality. There is no doubt we have sinned and committed various acts of spiritual transgression. May Allah use this season of Ramadan to wash away our sins. But, that is only if we change our ways and ‘go forth and sin no more’.

Morality describes the principles that govern our behavior and relates to our conduct at three levels …how we as individuals ensure that we are honest, just and compassionate;

How we interact with and contribute to society, as asset or liability and how conscious we are of our accountability to our Creator.

In a world, increasingly amoral, perception is considered reality. How one appears to the world has overtaken the substance of who we really are. Character is not 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 is what you lead others to believe you are, character is what you really are

Reputation is the wrapping, character the content. Reputation is made in a moment, character is built in a life time: Reputation may be reflected in what people write about you on your tombstone, character is what angels report about you to Allah; and it is this that enters into your report card on the Day of Reckoning.

Changing bad habits

Habits are conditioned responses, formed through repetition, until they become second nature; they end up as unconscious behavior, automatic reactions in a particular situation; it was Shakespeare, who said:” First we make our habits, then our habits make us “. The Roman poet Naso Ovid rightly said,” habits eventually become character”. Habits, classified as virtues or vices, are repeated actions that are in conformity with or contrary to the rules of morality. Good habits, unfortunately, seem so much easier to give up than bad habits. Bad habits are like a comfortable bed; easy to get into but difficult to get out of. Habits decrease or disappear by abstaining from exercising them and then replacing them. In the words of Roman orator, Cicero,” consuetudo consuetudine vincitur; habit is conquered by habit”. Ramadan is an ideal training period for filtering out bad habits and developing virtuous character; if only we would change.

The Holy Prophet 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 and attitudinal change and transformation.

Fasting is far more than mere abstention from the necessities of daily living. It is a mode of enhancing self-discipline. It is an opportunity for regulating one’s attitude and conduct, it serves as a protective shield; and is a means of attaining piety, which the Quran considers as the pinnacle of human development. Though prayer, pilgrimage and charity can be witnessed, fasting is a unique form of worship in that it not observable. Islam emphasizes this special institution of fasting as highly spiritual and moral discipline; both in motive and form. In motive, it requires purity of intention and honesty of purpose; and in form it demands abstention from engaging in any form of improper behavior. This degree of sincerity coupled with self-control is an expression of mastery over one’s carnal self, so necessary in developing a better human being, focusing on the larger purpose of existence. 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.

“Let us not believe that an external fast from visible food alone can possibly be sufficient for perfection of heart and purity of body unless with it there has also been united a fast of the soul. For the soul also has its foods that are harmful. Slander is its food and indeed one that is very dear to it. A burst of anger also supplies it with miserable food for an hour and destroys it as well with its deadly savor. Envy is food of the mind, corrupting it with its poisonous juices and never ceasing to make it wretched and miserable at the prosperity and success of another. Vanity is its food which gratifies the mind with a delicious meal for a time but afterward strips it clear and bare of all virtue. Then vanity dismisses it barren and void of all spiritual fruit. All lust and shift wanderings of heart are a sort of food for the soul, nourishing it on harmful meats but leaving it afterwards without a share of its heavenly bread and really solid food. If then, with all the powers we have, we abstain from these in a most holy fast our observance of the bodily fast will be both useful and profitable.” ― John Cassian, Making Life a Prayer: Selected Writings

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 in 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 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 a season of compassion and empathy.

The Apostle of Allah said, “The person who (in spite of fasting) did not give up telling lies and putting falsehood into practice, Allah has no interest in his abstention from food and water.” – Bukhari, Abu Hurairah. There is no doubt, most of our people are just starving themselves and are not fasting for God. Bloody hypocrites, they would not use the fast to effect attitudinal or character changes. Meanwhile, they flock to the Holy Land for Umra in the belief that they are performing acts of piety; but they are not deceiving God but themselves. Immediately after Ramadan, they would go back to their ignoble ways; they have succeeded in wasting a whole month of opportunity to change and turn a new leaf. But they would meet their God on the ‘Day of Reckoning’. Woe betide those who think they can mock God. Allah is never unjust in His dealings.

Barka Juma’at and Ramadan Kareem.

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