As Muslims enter the last ten days of Ramadan, it is important to recall the values and principles represented by this holy month
“O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may attain taqwa (God-consciousness).” Al-Qur’an 2:183
Unlike the other main Islamic practices, Ramadan creates a superior environment and a religious buzz within Muslim communities for a whole month, be they in Muslim-majority or minority countries. As Muslims, we prepare ourselves to welcome the month, and when it comes, most of us fast and become extra observant of our religion. We try not to miss the compulsory prayers, which many of us may disregard in other times. Our relationships with the mosques increase; the rich amongst us pay compulsory charity (zakah) and become even more charitable. Many of us remove the dust off the Qur’an from our top shelves and recite from it; some recite it in its entirety (khatm) and attend extra prayers (tarawih) at night. In the last ten days of Ramadan many of us seek the Night of Power (Lailatul Qadr), described in the Qur’an to be more blessed than a thousand nights, through extra prayers, supplication and Qur’an recitation.
The routine of life changes for many Muslims be they practising or casual. Young children in many families try to emulate their elders and vow to become better Muslims. Their anger recedes and demands reduce, their addiction to TV lessens and they become more disciplined and loyal to their parents. The mood in the Muslim family and the community changes with more visible religiosity. This has an additional impact on their surroundings, even in Muslim-minority countries. Other religious communities watch fasting in Islam with great interest. According to the Vatican’s point man for dialogue with Islam, Ramadan is seen as an opportunity for Catholics to learn from the Muslim example of obedience to the Almighty.
All these are essentially signs of the liveliness of Islam that pervades Muslim minds and Muslim communities wherever they live, and even in the days of excessive materialism and consumerism. Fasting in Ramadan is genuinely seen as a blessing on Muslims and to some extent people around them. Muslims are grateful to God that that they have been blessed with this unique month-long training routine to change themselves, charge their spiritual battery and to attain God-consciousness (taqwa).
No one can ever say that attaining taqwa in the midst of all the temptation is easy. The Quran talks about the very real distractions in our life: “Beautified for mankind is love of the joys (that come) from women and offspring, and stored up heaps of gold and silver, and horses branded (with their mark), and cattle and land. That is comfort of the life of this world” (Al-Qur’an 3:14).
While all these are blessings from God, as Muslims we believe we are tested with this worldly temptation. It is a demand on us that we take the world seriously, undertake responsibilities to develop a life of serenity and balance and do not squander these blessings. Fasting is prescribed on us to essentially mould our character and acquire the lofty qualities that are needed to bring inner peace of mind and enhance our ability to serve others.
Sadly, what many of us ‘Ramadan Muslims’ do during this month and the rest of the year is indeed less than inspirational. If our external change in behaviour and daily routine in Ramadan does not bring inner change, but instead gives way to the passion of pleasure-seeking and egotistic extravagance, we Muslims must find ourselves asking whether our fasting has really been accepted by God. For some ‘Ramadan Muslims’ indulgence begins right on the day of Eid, and for others, it gradually creeps into their life and dilutes the spirit which they acquired through the hunger and thirst of fasting.
Prophet Mohammed was aware of our natural human frailty and reminded Muslims of these dangers. He said, “Whoever does not give up lying and evil actions, then Allah is not in need of his leaving his food and drink” (Sahih al-Bukhari).
For Muslims, it is vital to employ the powerful tool of introspection (ihtisab) of our deeds, inside and outside Ramadan, and build an inner resilience and fighting-spirit against the temptation of life. It is essential to step back from our ever busy lives and shield ourselves from an artificially created virtual world dictated by smart phones, social networking and the entertainment industry. It is important to discover our worth as human beings and use the gift of time to stay away from loss.
“By the declining day, Lo! Man is in a state of loss, Save those who believe and do good works, and exhort one another to truth and exhort one another to endurance.” Al-Qur’an 103: 1-3
*Muslims repeat ‘peace and blessings be upon him’ at the mention of Prophet Muhammad’s name.
Photo Credits: Yusuf Ahmad, Reuters
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