If the brain and the belly are burning clean with fasting,
every moment a new song comes out of the fire.
The fog clears,
and a new energy makes you run up the steps in front of you.
- Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi
[Muslims offering Friday prayers at Jama Masjid Malegaon during the month of Ramadan. (Photo: ummid.com)]
Ramadan is the Islamic month of fasting, but it's about much more than simply abstaining from food and drink during the daylight hours. Ramadan in a way serves as a cause for Muslims to refresh their bond with Quranic values in order for people to duly preserve their relationship with their creator as well as meeting their responsibilities in their relationships with one another.
It is a month-long spiritual gym where Muslims work on metaphysical muscles through more deliberate disciplines, prayer, reflections and worship. It is an annual Islamic attempt to simultaneously grow vertically in their relationship with their Lord and horizontally with fellow human beings through various acts of charity. It is a month of self-auditing and self-evaluation where believers check their accounts in Heavenly currency terms..
In many ways, Ramadan mirrors a form of spiritual renewal – a time for new resolutions and a revival of inner peace. Ramadan provides an internal retreat where the mind and it’s natural ‘thirst’ for knowledge, awakening and reason is given greater precedence over the physical needs and desires of the body - needs which are regularly served but rarely satisfied.
Ramadan is an arduous ordeal to prepare mankind for a journey into a new year with renewed spiritual energy and fresh pledges. It is a means of building self control and striking a balance between the spiritual and the mundane. It is a way of adapting one’s life to subjugate the evil instincts and vicious ambitions like lust, greed and hatred. Islam has a beautiful word to describe this war against man’s carnal instincts. It is called jihad .In fact Islam repeatedly emphasizes it and calls it the 'greater jihad'. The "greater struggle" is the personal one: the struggle to resist temptation, combat one's own evil traits and imperfections, and become a better person in God's sight.
Takeaways of Ramadan
Before his prophethood, Prophet Muhammad used to spend the entirety of the sacred month of Ramadan in solitude, at Cave Hira, escaping the corruption of the mercantile class in Makkah while contemplating Divine Truth. Today, when Muslims observe Ramadan, we echo our Prophet's solitude, fasting by day and praying at night, yet we do not fully seclude ourselves from the secular. We have to balance our quotidian tasks without allowing our conscience to be sullied by the dross of materialism.
Ramadan Is A Gift
Ramadan is a priceless opportunity to take action and become a better servant to humanity. Ramadan reminds us fasting is not just about abstaining from food and drink, but also from back biting, gossiping, malice, suspicion, miserliness, extravagance, vulgarity, immodesty, infidelity, arrogance, ignorance, cowardice, and thinking ill of others, so that when food and drink become permissible once again, we have already built an internal fortress to permanently abstain from all these vices and bad habits.
What It Means To Be Human
In the Bible it is stated 'Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit which is in us' (I Cor. 6:19), and in the Qur'an God says, 'I breathe into him [Adam] My Spirit' (28:72).
With these verses in mind, the spiritual practices of fasting, prayers, charity, and intense meditation during Ramadan reminds us that our body is a base for the presence of the Spirit. Experiencing the presence of the Spirit reminds us to appreciate the body as sacred as well as rediscover and reconnect the sacredness of nature. Ramadan provides an important opportunity to further strengthen our channel for communing with the Sacred.
Closeness Of The Divine
Ramadan is a celebration of the closeness of the Divine, of family & community - which makes it the perfect time to welcome the stranger into our midst. When inviting loved ones for iftar, ask them to bring someone whom you do not know. Make room especially for those who are without family, partners, or friends during this sacred month, growing both our hearts & our ideas of community. It helps us in building a spirit of bonhomie and camaraderie that gives us an inner joy that defies description .It is more palpable than visible. The proper practice of Ramadan helps in softening our hearts and strengthening our bonds with our fellowmen.
We should focus on what qualities and characteristics of the Prophet Muhammad have they made a part of their own personality. Ask yourself if you are as loving, as compassionate, as forgiving, as just, and as honest as we know him to have been? Spend this month inculcating his qualities in yourself, and look into yourself to find one vice and make it your unshakable commitment to remove that vice from yourself this month. More important than outward forms of piety is the purity and morality of our conscience .We attach so much importance to outward modesty, such as donning a hijab or appropriate facial furniture that we lose sight of the inner purity and chastity –awareness of the presence of Divine every second .the cultivation of inner purity will eventually lead to outward purity and modesty because our outward is regulate by our inner impulses.
”And We have already created man and know what his soul whispers to him, and We are closer to him than [his] jugular vein” (Q50:16)
Solitude and Community
The best ways to gain spiritual and emotional nourishment from the month of Ramadan are found both in spending time with oneself, and with the community. The fast is, at its core, deeply personal, a struggle between one's ego/lesser self and the Creator. It is the only time we do something not for pleasing our friends, our parents or our teachers; we do everything only for God’s pleasure .All efforts are solely with the intention of pleasing God and expressing our gratitude for the numerous blessings .We retreat in a small closet where there is not a soul, it is as if we s are surrounded by the Divine Presence alone and yearning for the Sacred to touch our bare soul stripped of our earthly bearings.
A Lesson in Humility
Ramadan is an opportunity to reorganize our life and reestablish our priorities. From chasing dreams to seeking God it’s about reminding oneself of the direction of travel and seeking to lay down positive habits for the future. Restraint, contemplation, patience, it's also a good lesson in humility as one begins to recognize the myriad blessings in our day to day life.
The fast sharpens our spiritual instincts and imbues us to learn to be grateful for the blessing we have been endowed with .The deprivation that we suffer during the fast makes us sensitive to the plight of those who experience a permanent deprivation.
A month of Almsgiving
There are two major categories of charity: Zakat is the mandatory almsgiving, and Sadaqa, charity beyond the obligatory. At one point every year, Muslims are obliged to purify their wealth by calculating 2.5 percent of their assets -- including money in bank accounts, shares, investments, pensions, gold, etc. -- and giving it to those less fortunate. When reading the Quran, the significance of zakat appears to be equal to prayer as an expression of faith. The two are often mentioned simultaneously in the symmetrical rhythm of the Holy Book's verses. Why paying zakat is so crucial. It is God's way of ensuring the re-distribution of the wealth He has placed in our possession. It has the ability to balance disparities between people and possessions -- as every single person has equal access to God in all moments, there should be no barrier preventing individual assets that belong to God from flowing between people. Thus charity is not just an instrument of economic justice; it also helps in breaking social barriers .The rich experience a new affinity for the poor.
Mutual Self Respect Between Rich and Poor
When we enter the mosque for our communal meals and congregational prayers we leave at the doorstep our social class, our racist hue ,our trappings of wealth ,our grand titles ,our official positions .We are just human beings , no one rich ,no one poor ;wealth is measured only it terms of individual piety. Our egos are flattened and our pride is tempered; for the poor the pain of their misfortunes is assuaged. The poor understand that there is a purpose in life larger than their earthly goals; for the poor there is a new a ray of hope and promise in the otherwise desolate world.
Ek Hi Saf Mein Khare Ho Gaye Mahmood-o-Ayaz,
No Koi Banda Raha Aur Na Koi Banda Nawaz.
(Mahmood the king and slave Ayaz, in line, as equals, stood arrayed,
The lord was no more lord to slave: while both to the One Master prayed.)
Themes of unity, brotherhood and sisterhood feature deeply in all of the elements of a daily fast from the shared meals, the moral support, and the mutual prayers. Muslims observing the fast at home, work, school or college are brought together in a spiritual struggle to cleanse their souls and better themselves. After all, the benefits of Ramadan are not only there for Muslims to take advantage of but for non-Muslims too, who can hope to see a dramatic change in the demeanour of any Muslim they might know.
This should be a change that should in essence aim to become a permanent and positive contribution to the personality of the one participating in the fast. It should never just be a one-month deal but a personal ‘revelation’ which lasts a lifetime. In our current international political climate, it’s extremely important to use our similarities as a force for good and in Ramadan are themes consistent with many world faith and belief systems.
During Ramadan, Muslims keep focused on the concluding revelation of the Qur’an:“And be afraid of the Day when you shall be brought back to Allah. Then every person shall be paid what he earned, and they shall not be dealt with unjustly”. (Q2:281)
In fact, this spirit is not only what Ramadan is about, but what Islam is about in general. It is about contemplation, self-restraint fairness, kindness, , generosity, constant re-evaluation refusing unfairness, striving for good deeds, solidarity, love, care, forgiveness and many other finer values that are introduced in the Quran.
Ramadan reminds Muslims that their time on earth is limited; they are here as trustees. Their success depends on how we redeem this onerous trust .There is no escaping from this . Ramadan is a time in the year when people of all faiths can reflect and share values which are evident in their own beliefs and implement ideals that are universally accepted as progressive, positive and peace
Overall Ramadan is a time for Muslims to exercise self-discipline and restraint both spiritually and physically, as well as empathising with the plight of the poor.
May we all be able to bring ourselves to a level where we can accept and welcome all what Ramadan can give us.
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