Ramadan And Fasting
In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate
The month of Ramadan in which the Qur’an was revealed, a guidance for mankind, clear signs of guidance and the criterion. (2:185)
Fasting in the holy month of Ramadan is one of the foremost of the five pillars of Islam
That fasting has many purposes relating both to the Lordship of God and thanksgiving for His bounties, and to man’s individual and collective life, as well as to his self-training and self-discipline.
One of the multiple purposes of fasting connected with the Lordship of God is that God manifests the Perfection of His Lordship and His being the All-Merciful and All-Compassion-ate upon the surface of the earth which He has designed as a table upon which He has laid out all the varieties of His bounties in a way beyond the imagination of the inhabitants of the earth. Nevertheless, people cannot perfectly discern the reality of this situation because of heedlessness and the blinding veil of causality. But in the holy month of Ramadan, the believers, like an army waiting for the order ‘March!’, display a manner of worshipping in expectation of the command of ‘Help yourself!’ towards the end of the day, and they thus respond to that magnificent and universal Mercy with a comprehensive and harmonious act of collective worship. I wonder whether those who do not participate in this sublime act of worship and share in the honor of being so favored deserve to be called human.
Fasting is the key to a true, sincere, comprehensive and universal thanksgiving
One of the numerous purposes of fasting in the holy month of Ramadan concerning thanksgiving for the bounties of God Almighty is that there is a price for the food brought from the kitchen of a king by the servant carrying the trays of food. Obviously, it would be folly of an infinite degree to tip the servant but not to recognize the king who sent the food – an act which would mean disrespect for that gift of precious food. In the same way, God Almighty has spread for mankind His countless bounties of infinite variety on the face of the earth. These bounties require the payment of a price, which is thanksgiving. The apparent causes of those bounties, or those who bring them to us are like the food-carrying servant in the example above. We pay the servants, feel indebted to them, and sometimes thank them and thereby show them a degree of respect they have not merited. The true Giver of Bounties is infinitely more deserving of thanks for those bounties received than the causes or the means by which they come to us. One thanks Him by acknowledging one’s need for the bounties, and being fully appreciative of them and ascribing them directly to Him.
Fasting during the holy month of Ramadan is the key to a true, sincere, comprehensive and universal thanksgiving. Many people are unable to appreciate most of the bounties they enjoy since they suffer no hunger. A piece of dry bread, for example, means nothing as Divine bounty for those who are full, especially if they are rich, although it is, as even testified by his sense of taste, a very valuable bounty of God in the sight of a believer at the time of breaking his fast. Everyone, whether a king or the poorest of people, are favored, in the holy Ramadan, with a heart-felt thanksgiving by understanding the value of Divine bounties. Also, because of being forbidden to eat during daytime, a believer thinks: those bounties do not originally belong to me, and I am not free to regard them as mere food or drink. One Other owns them, and He grants them to me. So, I should wait for His permission to eat them. By thus acknowledging whatever he eats and drinks to be a gift of God, the believer thanks God tacitly. On account of this, fasting becomes a key to thanksgiving, which is a real human duty in many respects.
Fasting has many purposes in connection with man’s collective life, one of which is this:
God has created human beings differently in respect of their livelihood. Because of this, He calls the rich to the help of the poor. However, only through the hunger of fasting can the rich feel the hunger and tragic situation of the poor. Without fasting, many rich and self-indulgent people cannot perceive how painful hunger and poverty are, and to what extent the poor need care. Whereas, care for one’s fellow-beings is a foundation of true thanksgiving. There is certainly one poorer than each individual, so everyone is obliged to show care for the one poorer than him. Unless, therefore, one is obliged to suffer hunger, it is nearly impossible for him to do good or give help to his fellow-beings as required by that duty of care. Even if he does, he cannot do it as perfectly as he should, since he does not feel the condition of the hungry to the same extent.
There are many Divine purposes for the obligation of fasting during Ramadan related to self-training and self-discipline.
One of those purposes is as follows:
The carnal self desires to be free and unrestricted and regards itself to be so. It even wishes, by its very nature, for an imagined lordship and free, arbitrary action. Disinclined to thinking that it is being trained and tested through the countless bounties of God, it swallows up, like an animal, those bounties in the manner of a thief or robber, especially if it has a degree of wealth and power accompanied by heedlessness.
It is in holy Ramadan that the selfhood of everyone, whether the richest or the poorest, understands that, rather than owning itself, it is owned by One Other, and rather then being free, it is a servant. Unless it is ordered, or permitted, it is unable to do even the most common thing like eating and drinking, and thereby its illusory lordship is shattered, it can admit to servanthood and performs its real duty, which is thanksgiving.
Fasting also prevents the carnal self from rebellious acts and adorns it with good morals
Man’s carnal self forgets itself through heedlessness. It does not see, nor does it want to see, the infinite impotence and poverty and the defects of the utmost degree in its very nature. It does not reflect how it is exposed to misfortunes and subject to decay, that it consists of flesh and bones tending to rapid disintegration and decomposition. It rushes upon the world with a violent greed and attachment as if it had a steel body and would live forever. It clings to everything profitable and pleasurable. In this state, it forgets its Creator, Who trains it with a perfect care. Being immersed in the swamp of bad morals, it thinks about neither the consequences of its life in this world nor about its afterlife.
Fasting during holy Ramadan, however, causes even the most heedless and stubborn to feel their weakness and innate poverty. Hunger becomes an important consideration for them and reminds them how fragile their bodies are. They come to perceive to what extent they need compassion and care and, giving up haughtiness, feel a desire to take refuge in the Divine Court in perfect helplessness and destitute, and rise to knock at the door of Mercy with the hand of tacit thanksgiving, provided, of course, that heedlessness has not yet corrupted the individual completely.
Fasting has a connection also with the revelation of the Holy Qur’an
As is generally known, the Qur’an began to be revealed in Ramadan. This connection has many implications. One of these is that – just as if the Qur’an were to be revealed in every Ramadan, a believer should seek to be like the angels and abandon eating and drinking, and divest himself of the vain preoccupations and gross needs of his carnal self. During Ramadan, he should recite or listen to the Qur’an as if it were being revealed for the first time or, if he is able, listen to the Qur’an as if he were hearing it recited by the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, or by the Archangel Gabriel to Muhammad, or revealed by God Himself to Muhammad through Gabriel. Also, he should respect the Qur’an in the actions of his daily life and, by conveying its message to the others, demonstrate the Divine purpose for revealing the Qur’an.
The Muslim world becomes in Ramadan like a huge mosque where millions of reciters recite the Qur’an, that heavenly address, to the inhabitants of the earth. Demonstrating the reality of the verse, The month of Ramadan, in which the Qur’an was revealed, Ramadan proves itself to be the month of the Qur’an: while some members of the vast congregation in that great mosque of the Muslim world listen to its recitation with solemn reverence, others recite it themselves. As it is most disagreeable to forsake that heavenly spiritual state by giving in to the prompting of the carnal self to eat and drink in the sacred ‘mosque’, an action that is bound to provoke the dislike of the whole congregation – it is also most disagreeable and must, plainly, provoke the dislike and contempt of the whole Muslim world to oppose the Muslims who fast during the holy month of Ramadan.
Fasting has also many purposes related to the spiritual rewards of man
Fasting during Ramadan has also many purposes related to the spiritual rewards of man, who has been sent to the world to sow it with the seeds of the next life. The following paragraphs explain one of those purposes.
The rewards for the good deeds done in Ramadan are multiplied by a thousand. According to one hadith, ten rewards are given for each letter of the Wise Qur’an. The recitation of a single letter means ten good deeds, and brings forth ten fruits of Paradise. However, in the whole month of Ramadan, the reward for each letter of the Qur’an is multiplied not by ten, but by a thousand, even by thousands for some particular verses like the ‘Verse of the Throne’. The reward is still greater on the Friday nights of holy Ramadan. Furthermore, the reward for each letter of the holy Qur’an recited in the Night of Power is multiplied by thirty thousand. Thus, the Qur’an, each of whose letters yields thirty thousand permanent fruits of Paradise, becomes in Ramadan like a huge blessed tree which produces for believers millions of permanent fruits of Paradise. Consider, then, how holy and profitable a trade this is, and know in how great a loss those are who do not appreciate the letters of the Qur’an!
So, the holy month of Ramadan is the most proper time for carrying on that most profitable ‘trade’ in the name of the afterlife. It is like a most fertile field to cultivate for the harvest of the afterlife. For the multiplication of the reward for good deeds, it is like April in spring. It is also a sacred, illustrious festival for the ‘parade’ of those who worship the Sovereignty of God’s Lordship. Because of this, fasting is made obligatory for believers in Ramadan so that they should not gratify the animal appetites of the carnal self and indulge in its useless fancies. Since they become like angels while fasting or engaged in a trade for the next life, each acts as a mirror reflecting the Self-Sufficiency of God by moving in the direction of becoming a pure spirit manifested in corporeal dress through the abandonment of the world for a fixed period. In fact, the holy Ramadan contains, and causes a believer to gain, through fasting, a permanent life in a short period in this world.
One Ramadan may enable a believer to gain as much reward as could be earned in a life of eighty years
This can be decisively proved by the fact that the Night of Power is, as declared by the Qur’an, more profitable than eighty years in which there is not a Night of Power. A worldly king may announce a few days’ festival in the year to mark some special occasions like his accession to the throne, and he honors his faithful subjects on those days with special favors. Likewise, the Eternal, Majestic King of the eighteen thousand worlds sent down in holy Ramadan the Wise Qur’an, which is His exalted decree to all of those eighteen thousand worlds. For this reason, wisdom requires that Ramadan should be a special Divine festival in which the bounties of God’s Lordship will be poured out and the spirit beings will come together. Since, then, Ramadan is a Divinely ordained festival, it is proper that fasting in it would be commanded so that people should withdraw to some extent from their bodily preoccupations. Excellence in fasting, aside from its preventing the satisfaction of the stomach, is possible through refraining from sins committed by the senses or members of the body, such as the eyes, ears, heart, mind, and imaginative and contemplative faculties, and using them, instead, in the acts of worship particular to each. For example, the one who fasts, should prevent his tongue from lying, backbiting, bad language and indecent talk, and make it busy with the recitation of the Qur’an, glorification of God, seeking His forgiveness, and calling His blessing upon the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings. In the same way, he should prevent his eyes from looking at, and his ears from listening to, the forbidden things. He should, instead, use his eyes to see such things as those which, for example, will give a spiritual lesson or moral warning; and use his ears to listen to the Qur’an and truths. When the stomach, which is like a big factory in the body, is stopped from working, the other members, which may be likened to very small workshops in comparison with the stomach, can, in fact, easily be made to follow it.
One of the purposes of fasting related to man’s individual life is as follows:
Fasting is a diet from the viewpoint of both the physical and spiritual health of man. If the carnal self acts in eating and drinking in whatever way it wishes, this is harmful to man’s physical health, as well as being a poison for his spiritual life because of the absence of discrimination between what is lawful and unlawful. It becomes very difficult for such a carnal self to obey the heart and spirit. Without recognizing any principles, it takes the reins of man and drives him in whatever direction it desires. But, in Ramadan it gets accustomed to dieting through the fast and, in self-discipline, it is trained to learn to obey orders. Further, it does not cause the poor stomach to suffer illness because of over-eating without enough time allowed for proper digestion. In addition, since it has learned to forsake eating even what is lawful, it gains the ability to follow the decree of reason and religion to refrain from the unlawful. Thus, the carnal self tries not to corrupt the spiritual life of its owner.
Also, the great majority of mankind frequently become subject to hunger. In order to endure a long-lasting hunger with patience, people should train themselves in self-discipline and an austere lifestyle. Fasting during Ramadan provides just such a training based on patience with hunger of fifteen hours, or even twenty-four hours if the meal before dawn is missed. This means that fasting is a cure for the impatience and want of endurance, which double the misfortune of mankind.
Many members of the human body are either in direct or in indirect service of the factory of the stomach. If that factory is not made to stop working in daytime during a certain month of the year, it keeps those members busy with itself, forgetful of the kinds of worship and sublime duties peculiar to each. It is for this reason that, since the oldest times, saints have usually preferred to get themselves used to an austere lifestyle for the sake of spiritual and human perfection. Fasting in Ramadan reminds us that the members of the body have not been created only for the service of the stomach. In Ramadan, many of those members take pleasure in the angelic and spiritual pleasures, instead of the material ones. This is the reason why in Ramadan, believers receive, according to the extent of their spiritual perfection, different degrees of spiritual pleasures and enlightenment. The heart, the spirit, the reason and innermost senses of man are refined through fasting in Ramadan. Even if the stomach wails during fasting, these senses rejoice greatly.
Fasting during Ramadan breaks the illusory lordship of the carnal self
Fasting during Ramadan breaks the illusory lordship of the carnal self and, reminding it of its innate helplessness, convinces it that it is a servant.
The carnal self does not like to recognize its Lord, and claims lordship in great obstinacy. However much it is made to suffer, it preserves that temperament. It is only hunger which can alter that temperament. Fasting during Ramadan breaks the obstinacy of the carnal self and, by showing to it its intrinsic helplessness and poverty, reminds it that it is only a servant.
It is related from God’s Messenger that God Almighty asked the carnal self:
‘Who am I and who are you?’
The carnal self replied:
‘You are Yourself, and I am myself.’
However much God tormented it and asked the same question, He received the same answer:
‘You are Yourself, and I am myself.’
At last, God subjected it to hunger, and when asking the same question, the reply came:
‘You are my All-Compassionate Lord; I am Your helpless servant’.
O God, grant peace and blessings to our master Muhammad in a way to please You and to give him his due, to the number of the rewards for reciting the letters of the Qur’an in the month of Ramadan, and to his family and Companions.
Glorified be your Lord, the Lord of Honour and Power; exalted above what they falsely ascribe to Him! And peace be upon the Messengers! And all praise be to God, the Lord of the Worlds. Amen!
By Bediuzzaman Said Nursi