Editor’s note: This is a guest blog post by Saadia Faruqi. Saadia is an interfaith activist, blogger for Tikkun Daily and The Islamic Monthly, and a speaker on American Muslim issues. She lives in Houston, Texas and is currently writing a collection of short stories set in Pakistan. Follow her on Twitter @saadiafaruqi
This Ramadan, Remember to Celebrate the Spirit of Fasting
It’s the half-way point in Ramadan and who knew it would pass so quickly? Let me be honest and say that I am always filled with trepidation before the start of this holy month each year. With migraines making a frequent appearance due to hunger, I always worry how I will fulfil my obligations and really spend Ramadan the way it demands to be spent: in prayer, remembrance of Allah and community welfare.
But thankfully, by the sheer grace of Allah, each year fasting is made easy for me, as it is surely made for the millions of Muslims who abstain from food and drink in the daylight hours for such a prolonged period of time purely for the sake of their Lord. So at this half-way mark each year I make it a point to analyze what the spirit of Ramadan really is, and whether I am fulfilling it or not. If I fall short, which as a human being I am always liable to, I still have half a month to improve myself and receive some of the blessings associated with Ramadan.
What is Ramadan all about?
The Holy Prophet Muhammad, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, explained the true spirit of this sacred month very simply and beautifully:
“He who does not eschew falsehood and false conduct, Allah has no need for him to abstain from eating and drinking.”
I have observed that contrary to this hadith, many Muslims including myself tend to see Ramadan as a physical fast, a kind of sacrifice of the flesh and everything associated with it. While this physical sacrifice for the sake of Allah is certainly valid and well-intentioned, it leaves out the true purpose of the fast: to abstain from negative actions, to improve bad habits and to leave aside our bad qualities. Or at least try.
Yet how many times do I control my anger or actively give up a bad habit while fasting? How many times do I end up taking a nap in the afternoon instead of spending that time in prayer or Quran recital? I find it easy to blame the loss of temper at my children on the hunger pangs or the headache, the need for a nap on my weakened physical state, instead of using the discipline and strength of character that hunger arouses in me to improve my spiritual state. I have realized that fasting is actually a tool that allows us as Muslims to somehow get rid of our weaknesses, as if it gives us a super human power to battle the bad inside us and make us better human beings. In Ramadan, the hunger and thirst must remind us that the true purpose of the fast is to strengthen our moral character, not to give us strength to remain hungry or thirsty.
And when we thrust out the bad, the good must flow inside. Patience, tolerance, love, understanding, enlightenment… all these must enter our hearts and minds as we get rid of the falsehood and false conduct. Fasting makes our body ready to accept this transformation, because it allows us to let go of our ego and our base desires and accept what Allah wants for us. If I pray, fast, give sadqa and recite the Quran while fasting, but I do not express concern for my friends and family around me, or treat them in an angry, hostile or rude manner, what good is that worship?
During Ramadan, many of us also attend Tarawih prayers at mosques and Islamic centers. The mosque I attend provides iftar, dinner, and prayers every night of Ramadan. Do I enter and leave this sacred space with the true spirit of Ramadan, spreading peace around me and focusing on zikr or durood? Or do I find fault in the food, judge the clothes of the other women or complain about the noise their children make during Tarawih prayers? I am ashamed to say that it is often all of the above. We all have to do better to make our mosques and other religious places a haven for everyone, to show patience, love and hospitality to all those who enter.
This Ramadan, as every year, my analysis has shown that I need to improve myself in several aspects in order to truly please God. Thankfully, I still have two weeks to do so. As I work on inculcating the true spirit of Ramadan in myself and those around me, I pray that all Muslims everywhere become the recipients of the countless blessings that have been promised to them during their fasts. I pray that we all remember that fasting alone is not sufficient, but what is required is a fast with those excellent qualities that truly result in Satan being locked up and the doors of hell being closed. That doesn’t apply to us unless we fulfil all the physical, spiritual and communal requirements of the fast. Have a blessed Ramadan!