Jul 6, 2012

Ramadan Prep - The Real Reason Behind Fasting: Self Control

By Melody


As a child, when asked why we fast in Ramadan, my automatic reply would be: "to feel what the poor people feel."

To me, it was a self-explanatory statement, and I didn't question it further.

Over the years, the month of Ramadan would come and I'd view it as the time of the year restricted to the same concept of 'not eating or drinking from sunrise till sunset'. It was the time of the year, more than any, in which the family and community spirit could really be felt; the time of the year everyone is giving and being generous and inviting others to meals and breaking fasts together, and the time of the year we woke up extra early to have our breakfast late at night just before sunset. All these activities are centred around the 'not eating and drinking' concept, since I felt Ramadan was limited to that... And because I merely viewed it in this way, it wasn't something I properly prepared for. It was more of a ritual; more of a culture.

Thus, I didn't appreciate why people would look forward to its coming so much, nor their sincere disappointment at its leaving. I didn't get it. To me, Ramadan meant not eating or drinking, and I did not dwell further into it.

But Ramadan has a much more powerful, beautiful and deeper meaning to it.

There is alot to say about this. And I'll begin by quoting the verse from the Qur'an because it sums it up beautifully:

‏يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الصِّيَامُ كَمَا كُتِبَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ مِنْ قَبْلِكُمْ

O you who have believe, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you... [2:183]

So first and foremost, we fast because it's an obligation from God. Intention here is key.

Notice how Allah (swt) then says (continuation of the above verse)...

لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ

...In order that you may gain taqwa.

This here is the essence. This, is the very reason fasting was prescribed for us. Everything else links back to this.

It truly is a beautiful concept!

Right, let's break this down. What is taqwa?

Taqwa is derived from the word waqa وقاء, which literally means to protect and shield oneself. Fasting provides an invisible shield that can help us focus, and build up, on our spiritual and moral energies instead of our physical energies. When you're starving your body, you are actually feeding your soul. It is a logical concept; Because eating is a physical pleasure, and by eating you are giving in to the physical needs of the body. But when you disengage your focus from the physical world, it then becomes easier for you to engage your focus on the inner, spiritual world.

It is not healthy to concentrate solely on the physical need and completely ignore our spiritual need. There is another non physical part of us; our emotions, feelings and cognitive thinking are all non physical attributes. So you can't deny the non physical component of your being. You need to feed your soul, in addition to the physical component of yourself. The point of Ramadan is to put less focus on eating, to show the nafs (your soul) that there is more to life than the physical world, that one can find happiness in something other than the material world, and that there is a deeper fulfilment to life than just eating, drinking and sleeping.

Fasting is intended to liberate us from our addictions. Through fasting, I am actually disciplining and preventing myself from becoming addicted or a prisoner to what I need to do daily. If I never take a break and stop to look inwardly, my world will be defined by what goes on around me. I will then go up and down with the ups, downs and the inconstancy of the dunya (this world); internally I will never have peace. Nowadays, we live in a world in which "being free" means indulging in your own desires. When in fact this is the opposite. If you indulge in your own desires with no limit, you actually become a slave to them, you become weak. It is only when you control and discipline your soul that you can be described as being free.

How do we live in the dunya without being attached? Allah gives us the prescription, and one way He teaches us this is through fasting. Another is through prayer; five times a day you break away, you pull yourself away from your external surroundings and refocus on the internal. You begin to see things that you wouldn't otherwise notice. There is truly only one thing that brings the heart at rest and that is through Allah (swt). So let's not make this Ramadan be about not eating and drinking. We want to purify our soul also. In Ramadan you will encounter your nafs and you will really get to know yourself, because shaytaan is chained. Adopting new habits, and eliminating bad ones, therefore, becomes alot easier in this month. So make the most of it, be very critical and cautious of your thoughts, words and actions, delve deeper into your soul and think about what areas you should focus on.

Make an intention: "I will not make this Ramadan just about being hungry, I will make this Ramadan an inner transformation". To be free from sins, you need to go into Ramadan with a proper focus and engage in its real purpose, and to judge if you are purified at the end of it - see how you are after it. Ramadan should be a fuel, taking what you learnt in that month even after it is over. By doing so, you will come out of Ramadan feeling refreshed, feeling purified, feeling protected and feeling ready for whatever challenges that may be faced in the coming year, insha'Allah.

I end this by sharing a quote from Sulayman B. Musa on this blessed month:

When you fast, your hearing and sight should also fast, and your tongue should fast by keeping away from lies, and do not harm your servant. Don’t let the day you fast be the same as the day you don’t fast.
Tārīkh Dimishq Vol. 22 p. 389.

I'd love to hear your views on this article. Please tell me in the comments section below :)


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